A lot of reasons can be highlighted for Northwestern's 63-61 loss to Purdue Thursday night. What I want to do is take this opportunity to breakdown the reasons for this devastating loss. I think the biggest reason was missed free throws in second half. Michael Thompson, Jeff Ryan, Jeremy Nash, Kevin Coble, and Craig Moore all only made one of two free throws. Overall, Northwestern made only 11-of-18 free throws in the second half. That compares poorly to Purdue’s 14-of-16. It is nearly impossible to come back on a team that makes free throws, but Northwestern is not that team and missed free throws continue to doom this squad. Missed layup are also a problem, but I have noticed as I watch college basketball closely that Northwestern is hardly the only team to miss layups. The problem is that NU gets so many fewer shots each miss hurts twice as much as misses from other teams do.
Those missed free throws are a symptom of another huge problem for Northwestern—lack of a killer instinct. Northwestern is 8-6 overall this season and in three of those losses Northwestern has blown a double-digit lead. Northwestern is a team that doesn’t know how to win. When you have a team on the ropes you need to finish them off. Northwestern has shown a total inability to do this against good opponents. One commentator said Purdue simply wanted the game more than NU. I heard the same about Butler and Penn State, but I don’t really buy it. How can NU not want to win as much as the other team? That makes no sense. Who the hell shows up to play sports and doesn’t want to win? If you don’t want to win it’s time to turn in the uniform. The problem is NU simply doesn’t know how to finish. People wondered about NU’s toughness after the loss to Wisconsin, honestly I think Northwestern’s players are as tough as they can be physically. Unfortunately, other team’s players are physically so much stronger and more athletic they make NU’s smaller guys look weak. One area where I think NU could match up in toughness, but doesn’t, is mental toughness. NU seems to fold in on themselves whenever they get a big lead. It’s as if you can see them say, “Oh crap, we’re going to win.” Some say this is on Coach Carmody, but from my experience mental toughness is a do it yourself job. A coach can help, but he can’t pour mental toughness into somebody’s head.
Maybe part of the problem relates to the crowd in Welsh-Ryan Arena. It has to beat you down a little mentally when you play a home game and 50% or more of the crowd is pulling for the other side. I feel beat down and I’m just a fan. I have several friends from Purdue and usually get along with their fans, but today I was surrounded by the most obnoxious Purdue fans I’ve ever meet. Of course, that’s a major digression as this isn’t about me. The point is that coming into your gym and seeing ton of fans wearing the opposing team’s color has to get you down a bit. It especially hurts, I believe, on days like today when the student attendance isn’t great.
I guess the last reason for the loss is the fact Purdue’s defense in the second half was much more intense than NU’s. Maybe this relates to the “they wanted it more” idea, but I’m not sure I buy that. I wonder instead if it relates to a conditioning issue. It seemed like Ryan, Williams, and Nash were all over for the game’s first 30 minutes but didn’t make as many tips and deflections late. Is it possible they were exhausted? Maybe. Although, I do have to give Purdue credit for passing the ball better in the second half. It’s hard to rotate when a team makes crisp passes and Purdue did so.
Tomorrow: Friday Flashback brings us an in person account from NU’s December 21, 2006 win over Utah. This should hopefully make us all feel better as we remember the good times.