Takeaways: Maryland 94, Northwestern 87 2OT
Northwestern lost a heartbreaker in double overtime to Maryland, 94-87.
The 'Cats were led by a phenomenal game from Pete Nance, who finished with 28 points and 14 rebounds. They showed great fight, forcing overtime despite being down 72-66 with 30 seconds left in the second half.
Northwestern's resolve finally broke when Nance went out with a rolled ankle with 2:43 left in second overtime. He left with the 'Cats down four, and his presence was immediately missed when the Terrapins grabbed three offensive rebounds and drained 57 seconds in one possession. By the time he felt able to get back in the game, the 'Cats were down 90-85 with 46 seconds left.
Maryland was led by a tag team of guards: Eric Ayala and Fatts Russell. Ayala finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds, and Russell had 23 points. Ayala controlled regulation, where he scored 24 of his 26, and then passed the baton to Russell, who scored 13 of his 23 in the overtime periods.
The loss, close though it was, leaves Northwestern in a tough position going forward. This stretch was supposed to bolster the 'Cats into a strong Big Ten or even March run; instead it has delivered three devastating, close home losses.
It was a frustrating refrain for the Wildcats, coming up just short in another must-win home game. Collins was frank when confronted with the team's earlier aspirations for a tournament run.
"You have to win a game," Collin said. "You have to win a game. We've lost four in a row, we have to win a game. We have fifteen left, there's plenty of opportunities.
"You have to win one game, and then you use the momentum of that and try to turn one into two. That has to be the focus, no matter who we are playing."
Here are our takeaways from the loss that dropped Northwestern’s record to 8-6 overall and 1-4 in Big Ten play:
Northwestern showed fight, but the season is on life support: Northwestern showed resilience and determination, as any team needs to in order to take a game to double overtime. But this tough loss is likely the death knell for this team's broader aspirations for a solid Big Ten campaign or even an appearance in March.
In this opening stretch of four Big Ten opponents, the 'Cats needed to go 2-2 or at worst 1-3. But an 0-4 stretch is insurmountable, especially with the upcoming schedule.
For a team that is supposed to be at the peak of its powers, after years of development for key players like Nance, Boo Buie, Robbie Beran and even Chase Audige, this has been the worst-case scenario. From the Jan. 9 NCAA rankings, four of the next five opponents (MSU, Wisconsin, Purdue and Illinois) are in the Top 25.
This stretch was needed to build momentum and to build a conference record cushion so the 'Cats could weather the upcoming storm, but now they have no margin for error and a tough road ahead.
It was Beran's best game this season: Beran has been the picture of consistency over the years at Northwestern, even if that often leaves fans wanting a little more from him. After a rare scoreless game against Ohio State, he delivered against Maryland. Beran was much more aggressive for the 'Cats than usual, and ended up with 17 points and six rebounds.
Beran is normally Northwestern's fourth or fifth scoring option on the floor, but he was assertive and looking for opportunities tonight, and it paid off. He showed off his arsenal, scoring around the rim, with a couple midrange jumpers and hit one of his four attempts from beyond the arc.
He fouled out as well, but that was more of a function of extended overtime and his physicality than reckless play.
Another mixed bag from Audige: Heading into this season, Northwestern was counting on progressions from last season's Big Three — Nance, Buie and Audige — to lead the way this season. Nance and Buie delivered with boosts in their points per game and field-goal percentages. Audige has had a tougher time finding his rhythm this season after he missed some of the early games with injury.
His points-per-game and field-goal percentage are slightly down from last year, but the biggest drop has been his touch from beyond the arc. Last year, Audige was a 33.9% shooter from three; this year that number is more than halved, down to 16.7%. He is 4-for-24 on the season, and his improvement back to where he was last year would be crucial to putting this offense back on track.
Tonight against Maryland was another mercurical performance from Audige. He scored nine points on 4-of-13 shooting and was 1-of-5 from beyond the arc. But even with that tepid stat line, he provided an overtime spark and scored Northwestern's first four points in the first overtime.
If Northwestern wants to get back on track, they'll need Audige to stabilize and deliver consistently.