EVANSTON-With two key players out, an already thin Northwestern lineup was anorexic against Indiana on Saturday night. But the feisty Wildcats still put up a fight before falling to the Hoosiers 61-56 at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Northwestern was down to eight scholarship players because JerShon Cobb was out with a foot injury and Nikola Cerina served his one-game suspension for his altercation with Ohio State. Cobb's foot swelled up after Wednesday's game against Ohio State and coach Chris Collins said his star guard may or may not return this season. BTN's Stephen Bardo reported shortly before tipoff that the foot was broken and that Cobb would be out for the season.
Here are our rapid reactions:
Did you see that? Take your pick from any of Indiana's monstrous jams. There was Troy Williams streaking down the lane for a powerful stuff on the fast break. There was Noah Vonleh snatching a missed jumper out of midair and spiking it down like a volleyball player. There was Williams again, slamming down a missed shot with authority. When it comes to Northwestern plays, the best we saw was Drew Crawford dunking on Vonleh seconds after a foul was called and play was stopped.
Offensive player of the game: Alex Olah. He was listed as questionable coming into this game, but it didn't look like he was nursing two sore ankles once he got going. He posted up on the block and showed his improving array of moves, then stepped outside and knocked down a pair of 3-pointers. When it looked like the game might get out of hand, it was Olah who kept the Wildcats in the game. The 39 minutes he played were vital, considering NU was without Nikola Cerina. The big man finished with 17 points.
Defensive player of the game: Olah. Vonleh got his numbers (12 points, eight rebounds), but Olah did an admirable job defending him for the most part. Playing on two sprained ankles, the 7-footer gave everything he had in trying to keep up with the mobile Vonleh. It could certainly be said that some of the offensive rebounds that Indiana got were his fault, but overall, Olah did a great job of crashing the boards. He finished the game with 11.
Turning point: Indiana's dunk-fest. It definitely wasn't the stretch that put the game out of reach, but it was the stretch that shifted momentum toward the Hoosiers and gave them the energy to take control of the game. Late in the second half, Northwestern was starting to get in a good offensive groove before forgetting how to box out. On four straight possessions, Indiana threw down thunderous dunks, with two of them being huge put-backs from Vonleh and Williams. The barrage gave the Hoosiers a lead going into halftime, and they wouldn't trail again.
Key stat: 35-29. That was the rebounding margin, in favor of Northwestern. Indiana came into the contest as the No. 1 rebounding team in the Big Ten, but the Wildcats got the better of them on the glass, including 13-10 on the offensive end. Olah grabbed a game-high 11, including five offensive, to lead the way.
Xs and Os: Tom Crean appeared to adjust well to what Northwestern did to beat his team earlier in Big Ten play. Rather than having Vonleh sit on the block and post up possession after possession, Crean had the potential lottery pick set a lot of ball screens at the top of the key to test Olah's mobility. Other times, Vonleh got the ball at the elbow and beat Olah off the dribble. In the second half, Crean went even further by going with a lineup so small that Olah was guarding 6-foot-7 guard/forward Will Sheehey.
Atmosphere: After the somewhat disappointing turnout for Sunday's loss to Minnesota, it was encouraging to see such a good crowd coming to watch two struggling teams. Northwestern came in on a four-game losing streak while Indiana had just gotten crushed by Purdue, but the fans didn't seem to care. There was certainly a lot of red in the crowd, but the student sections were overflowing, making both teams pretty well represented.