By Hap Conover
Looking at the demeanor of Vic Law and A.J. Turner after the game, it was evident how tough this stretch has been.
Since Aaron Falzon caught fire and the Wildcats beat Indiana on January 22, the wheels have started to come off Northwestern’s season. But Wednesday night’s 59-56 loss at the hands of Rutgers has to be considered rock bottom.
Coming off of a heartbreaking loss to Iowa that saw Northwestern finally regain their form offensively, this loss seemed eerily familiar to the Penn State game before. Sluggish offense and a lack of execution down the stretch led to a home loss against a seemingly inferior opponent.
“This is an unforgiving league, we have to figure it out,” Chris Collins said after the game.
Of course no one would disagree with Collins’ assessment of the Big Ten, but home contests against Penn State and Rutgers would seem to be the best opportunities to pick up victories.
Offensive struggles, particularly those of senior Vic Law, doomed the Wildcats. Law shot 6-16 from the field and missed some crucial shots down the stretch, none bigger than a runner that would have given Northwestern the lead with 15 seconds remaining.
Dererk Pardon recorded only 6 points on 5 shots and was double teamed all night long.
“At our place he was a monster. We tried to give him different looks with different players, guys with some length,” said Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell.
“When it becomes four on three, we have to find a way to make them pay,” said Collins.
The game was a slugfest in the first half as both teams combined to turn it over 16 times and shoot 2-17 from beyond the arc. The pace picked up a bit in the second half, and neither team could gain the upper hand for long.
Rutgers was able to grab an eight-point lead after a Caleb McConnell three, but the Wildcats responded to cut the lead to 53-50 with just under 2 minutes remaining. Myles Johnson then had arguably the play of the game, scoring an and-one to give the Knights a two-possession lead.
The last 30 seconds were mayhem, as Vic Law hit a three to cut the deficit to one and then Rutgers was called for a five-second violation. Law’s shot to take the lead came up short, and after Eugene Omoruyi hit 2 free throws, his half-court bid to send it to overtime sailed left.
Northwestern fell to 3-10 in Big Ten play and 12-12 on the season with the loss and faces a difficult upcoming stretch that features road matchups against Nebraska and Ohio State.
“At this point we have two choices: lay down on the season, or come back and fight. I have no question what our guys are going to do,” Collins said after the game.
For this squad, the time to fight has to be now.