3 key players in NU’s loss to Pitt
By Matt Weiss
The Pitt game was bound to be special the second Ty Berry scored his inaugural first half points, and in typical Wildcat fashion, Northwestern fell 71-70 in a nail-biter to Pitt, leading the game for all but 5.6 seconds. Those 5.6 seconds, though, were the only ones that mattered.
Falling to 2-1 on the season, Northwestern’s one-point loss to Pitt displayed the most authentic depiction of what Wildcat basketball will look like for the upcoming season, and sorry to say, it did not look pretty. Here are three deep dives into the players that determined the game for the Wildcats, both positive and negative. Unfortunately, there are a lot of negative aspects.
1. Ryan Young
I’ll start with the sole bright spot for the Wildcats. Coach Collins has opted to start Pete Nance at the five this season, but coming off the bench, Ryan Young brought much needed grit and BME (big man energy) to the complacent ‘Cats. Although Pete Nance can help stretch the floor with his shooting and passing capabilities, neither were on display against Pitt. Nance’s shot selection was detestable at best; he shot 1-of-4 from three, with one particularly egregious air ball. Young was clearly the better play, collecting three of the Wildcats’ four offensive boards while tearing up the Pitt zone.
The most important stat, however, was Young’s free throw percentage: 100%. Young got rebounds when the ‘Cats were struggling to board, allowing two individual Pitt players to accumulate five offensive rebounds. Young kept the Cats alive during the second half when offense was hard to come by, and he was also strong on the defensive end, creating opportunities to score with quick hands that led to one of Northwestern’s five steals.
2. Miller Kopp
Kopp’s disappearance on the offensive half for the Cats was the difference maker in this one-point loss. Kopp, the ‘Cats’ resident sharp shooter, fought through uncharacteristically poor shooting both from the field and the free throw line. Kopp, a near 90% free throw shooter in the 2019-20 season, went 2-of-4 from the stripe on top of a goose egg 0-of-3 from 3-point range. Although Kopp’s shooting consistently missed the mark, his high basketball IQ compensated for some of the lackluster production, making two great cuts resulting in easy layups. Kopp is an integral part of Collins’ plans for this team.
While the likes of Audige and Buie are playmakers that benefit most with the ball in their hand, Kopp’s consistency from range is invaluable for the Cats offense. Without which, the Cats went a despicable 8-of-28 from range, with only two players (Buie and Audige) connecting on multiple threes. Audige and Buie, though, went 4-of-14 from range.
3. Boo Buie
Boo Buie has shown flashes of maturation from his first-year campaign, but in a close game against Pitt, the starting point guard showed immense room for growth. Buie led the team in scoring and assists, yet his play in the last two minutes paved the way for a Pitt victory. Shooting 2-of-9 from the field, a majority of Buie’s production came from the free throw line. Buie’s poor shotmaking was salvaged by questionable fouls on questionable drives, many of which were into crowds of Pitt defenders. With Pitt reaching ten fouls almost halfway through the second half, Buie was able to reach the stripe eleven times, converting eight, a respectable 72%.
While Buie composed an admirable game through the first thirty-eight minutes, the final two minutes saw a collapse of play and decision-making from Buie. After a turnover with thirty five seconds left quickly turned into two points for Pitt, Buie missed a pair of free throws with 16 seconds left that led to Pitt’s game-winning dunk. The aforementioned turnover had a clear impact on Buie’s mentality, as Buie was unable to convert a single free throw leading by one in such a critical position. Making the situation worse, Buie had an open Chase Audige tailing for an easy layup, but instead opted for the contested layup with the game clock running down and the shot clock off. Buie’s great potential was on display throughout the game, yet decision-making remains a quintessential flaw of his play style, evident in the three turnovers and improbable drives and takes.
The Bottom Line
The Wildcats’ loss doesn’t fall on a single player, but on a clear lack of urgency that allowed for Pitt to surge back into the game after leading by eleven at half. Opposite of the opening two games, the Wildcats settled for threes early in the shot clock and were decimated on the boards, allowing 6’6’’ Justin Champagnie to secure twenty rebounds, five coming on the offensive end. The Cats were passive throughout the contest, only able to maintain a solid lead in the first half as a result of Pitt’s inability to capitalize on second chance opportunities, of which they had many. Collins’ squad showed promise in the first two games of the season, but against stronger competition Wednesday, the ‘Cats were their own worst enemy. In order to remain competitive in a deep Big Ten, Northwestern must look within itself to solve the glaring flaws that were on display against Pitt.