After a month or so of poor play, both Northwestern men’s and women’s basketball snapped their five-game losing streaks this week. In it’s only game of the week, the men’s team topped Minnesota, which is still looking for its first Big Ten win, while the women’s team beat Illinois before falling to Rachel Banham and Minnesota in double overtime on Sunday. So let’s take a look at the NUmbers behind the past week for both teams:
Minnesota is not a good basketball team — the Gophers are No. 184 overall by KenPom — and Northwestern was able to take advantage. Against the Golden Gophers, Northwestern averaged 1.26 points per possession. Offensively, the Wildcats played really well, led by the guard play of Bryant McIntosh and Tre Demps, who scored 20 and 23 points apiece. And after shooting terribly against Michigan State in the week prior, Northwestern found its shooting touch, going 53.7 percent from the field.
With his assist on a basket by Demps with 11:48 to go in the second half, McIntosh became Northwestern’s single-season leader in assists, passing a mark Tim Doyle set during the 2006-2007 season. He currently ranks second in the Big Ten in assists per game, just 0.1 behind Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine. And while he only had three against the Gophers, McIntosh also contributed 20 points, including 4-of-7 shooting from behind the arc. While he has slowed down a bit as of late after a spectacular start to the season, McIntosh continues to shine with an 38.1 assist rate that ranks among the top 15 in the country.
Coming into Northwestern’s matchup with the Golden Gophers, the Wildcats were shooting terribly at home, especially behind the arc where they were just 15-of-106 (14.2%) from three at home during conference play. But all that changed against Minnesota as Northwestern rained threes early on and finished 12-of-27 (44.4 percent) from downtown. Aaron Falzon, Demps and McIntosh were constantly able to find open shots beyond the arc and, unlike in previous games, they knocked them down against a very bad defensive team. Now 4-2 in conference games where they shoot above 30 percent from beyond the arc, if the Wildcats can stay hot, with a lighter schedule moving forward, 20-plus wins isn’t out of the question.
Facing another potential disappointing loss on Thursday night, the Northwestern women’s team came back to stop the bleeding and end their five-game losing streak. Facing a seven-point deficit with 17 minutes remaining in Champaign, Northwestern overpowered the Illinois Fighting Illini when it mattered most, ending the game on a 42-25 run. With Northwestern losing fourth-quarter leads often over the past month, it was refreshing to see the Wildcats get stronger as the game went on. Nia Coffey had eight points in the third quarter, while Christen Inman dropped 10 of her 20 points in the final frame. Northwestern did what it needed to do to win on the road against a team it should beat, but that success couldn’t quite carry over late in Sunday’s game over Minnesota.
Northwestern didn’t play poorly in its heartbreaking double-overtime loss to Minnesota on Sunday, but the Wildcats are probably kicking themselves for not making the little plays when they mattered most against the Gophers. Crucial turnovers and missed shots in crunch time inevitably sunk the Wildcats; Inman had two chances to hit a game-winning shot at the end of regulation, while Maggie Lyon missed an open three at the buzzer in the first overtime that would’ve sealed a Northwestern victory. Another area where the Wildcats could have been more productive was at the free-throw line, however, as they shot just over 57 percent at the charity stripe (16-for-28). Conversely, Minnesota converted on 32-of-39 free throw attempts (82.1 percent). A few extra points late in the game may have been enough to suppress the unstoppable force that was Rachel Banham.
Unfortunately for Northwestern, its fourth-quarter woes returned just when it looked like the Wildcats would escape with their second straight win. The Wildcats blew a seven-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, while they also lost a six-point lead in the final 1:57 of regulation and a five-point lead in the final 40 seconds of the first overtime. Rachel Banham’s NCAA record-tying 60 points had a lot to do with that, but the point remains that the defense simply came up short when it was needed most, albeit against a very talented offensive team. In a season full of disappointing losses for NU, the frantic pace and dramatic finish in Sunday’s game made it undoubtedly the hardest to swallow.