Northwestern hangs on to top Fairfield, move to 2-0

Photo Credit: David Banks/USA TODAY Sports

Photo Credit: David Banks/USA TODAY Sports

By Adam Braunstein

It was not a pretty game for Northwestern. In fact, it was pretty darn ugly at points. The only time the ‘Cats were behind was at the game’s infancy when Fairfield held a 3-0 lead, but in no way was this an easy win. With 3:28 remaining in the game, the Stags trailed by a mere 3 points. However, behind 20 points from Bryant McIntosh, including a CLUTCH and-1 layup with 52 seconds left, the ‘Cats found a way to win, beating the Fairfield Stags 79-72. We’ll start with the bad from this game and get that out of the way:

  1. DEFENSE– Ouch! 72 points allowed to Fairfield? Did we really just witness that? Yes. Northwestern allowed the Stags to shoot 40.7% from the field and put up 43 second half points. Both Coach Collins and Sanjay Lumpkin were asked postgame about the team’s struggles and both, while obviously unhappy, see no need for panic. “I thought they did a better job (in terms of not turning the ball over),” Collins said, giving credit to his opponent rather than criticizing his team. Lumpkin simply said, “Defense and toughness just has to get better for Friday.”
  1. REBOUNDING– Against Fairfield, this should not have been a problem. But rebounding is in the “bad” part of this article for a reason. The Stags outrebounded the ‘Cats 41-33. Coming into tonight’s matchup, 6-8 Marcus Gilbert was averaging only two rebounds per game in the young season; tonight, he grabbed 11. 6-4 guard Curtis Cobb collected seven and 6-8 Jonathan Kasibabu got five, while no ‘Cats starter had more than five. Many will point to the absence of Vic Law as the salient culprit of this problem, but he is out for the remainder of the 2015-2016 campaign; NU is going to have to find a way to cope before they take on teams like Columbia and UNC.
  1. FOULS– The referees of tonight’s contest certainly kept busy. Northwestern was called for 22 fouls in this one—including a technical foul on the Wildcats’ bench with two ticks left on the clock—resulting in 21 Stags free throws. The new NCAA rules, in particular the shot clock now being 30 seconds rather than 35, certainly allow the ‘Cats some sort of a grace period to adjust. Plenty of teams will be frustrated with the number of whistles that go against them this college basketball season. Collins sees this as something the ‘Cats need to change and added, “We have to do a better job using the new rules to our advantage.” Of course he’s right, this needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. It turned out to not cost NU the game against Fairfield, but with the schedule about to get much tougher, every point counts and those fouls add up quickly.

Ok, ok. That’s enough of the bad. A win is a win, the ‘Cats are 2-0 to start the year, and they are plenty of encouraging signs coming from this team. Here they are:

  1. AARON FALZON PLAYS HERE– Falzon followed up his 20-point freshman debut with a 13-point showcase. Naturally, fans are going to discuss his three 3-pointers, especially as Collins continues to praise his shooting ability. “He’s as good a shooter as there is in college basketball,” Collins said. While it’s hard to say that convincingly about a guy just a few months out of high school, it’s also difficult to argue with the results. What makes the good news even sweeter is that Falzon is not just, as Collins put it, a “one-trick pony.” He went two-for-three on two-point attempts and picked up three rebounds in 27 minutes. Despite being a freshman, look for Falzon to be one of Northwestern’s most important players this season.
  1. NORTHWESTERN CAN SCORE– Falzon is the new kid on the block, so he is naturally going to get the most eyes on him. But the rest of this ‘Cats team can put the ball in the hoop with ease as well. Bryant McIntosh had a brilliant performance Wednesday night, leading the ‘Cats with 20 points on 62 percent shooting. Collins was succinct in his description of McIntosh’s night, calling him “sensational.” What makes the team’s performance that much more impressive is that NU scored with ease while their best weapon, Tre Demps, struggled. “It was great to win with him going 4-16… it’s only a matter of time, he is going to be there,” Collins added after the game. And when Demps is back to normal, watch out.
  2. TURNING TURNOVERS INTO POINTS– The stats really say it all on this one. Northwestern had 23 points off turnovers, while Fairfield only had seven. McIntosh was sensational in this area as well, swiping four of NU’s five steals. When Northwestern’s defense is as weak as it was Wednesday night, it is vital that they take advantage of their opponent’s mistakes. The ‘Cats did that extremely well against Fairfield.

Northwestern is clearly nowhere near where it needs to be in order to really compete in the Big Ten. A frighteningly close call against the Stags is a fairly blatant reminder of that fact. However, this team has shown glimpses, even prolonged runs of brilliance over its first two games. Friday night’s matchup against the Columbia Lions should be a tough, albeit winnable game for the ‘Cats at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

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