Coming down the stretch of tonight’s game Northwestern resembled a man hanging onto a cliff screaming, “aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” and hoping someone will come and save him.
Overall, I thought Northwestern played 30 good minutes and 10 poor minutes of basketball. The 10 poor minutes almost cost Northwestern the game, but they survived to hold on for the win and that’s what’s important.
I was really impressed with the attitude and focus Northwestern started the game with. They had a plan to attack Baylor’s zone and executed it with ease. Multiple NU players got easy looks against the zone and helped NU build a halftime lead. I liked that Alex Olah found a couple open looks for points and looked comfortable passing the ball to cutters including one really nice dish to Jared Swopshire. Olah totaled 6 assists in the game and 10 points (all the other NU starters joined him in double figures). Mike Turner played, at least to me, his best game of the year backing up Olah, but I do think Olah ought to record the majority of the minutes. Turner really isn’t a threat on offense, but he also looked comfortable passing the ball and played his first game without turning the ball over in his 13 minutes of action. Obviously, both of those players need to make free throws better, but at least we saw some solid progress.
The other thing I liked in the first 30 minutes of the game was Northwestern clearly had an aggressive mindset. Not only in the game plan to attack the basket with cutters, but I loved the fact that Dave Sobolewski was intense enough to get a warning for taunting. Baylor sure wasn’t backing down as Rico Gathers seemed to be in the game just to hammer NU’s players. I don’t really even mind Drew Crawford getting called for hanging on the rim. It was stupid, but it was the most intense act I’ve ever seen from Drew Crawford and he needs to be more intense as a senior leader. Reggie Hearn is always intense and I was impressed he put his poor performance from Saturday behind him to play perhaps the best game of his career in posting 17 points and 10 rebounds. If Northwestern wants to win Big Ten games they need that aggressiveness mindset and intense effort.
Perhaps Hearn’s effort is a microcosm of this team as a whole. NU did virtually everything wrong for the majority of the UIC and Maryland games, but tonight for ¾ of the game they did nearly everything right. Maybe the team’s youth explains the inconsistency, but I just like the fact they didn’t stay stuck in the rut of failure. They did what the needed to in order to comeback and pick up a win which gives them hope for a making a postseason tournament which looked all but impossible on Saturday. In the end, I hope the coaching staff truly does emphasize the one game at a time mentality with this group. I know people will look at the end of the season and a possible NCAA bid, but this is a team which has clearly shown they can play great or terrible on any given day. If they’re focused simply on what they have to do in order to win every single game maybe the terrible games will be kept to a minimum.
NU’s coaching staff also will need to be as effective as they were in developing a game plan for attacking Baylor’s zone consistenly because NU will be overmatched physically (as they were tonight) more often than not. Also, I would strongly suggest a review of how to handle pressure defense and a little more work on free throw shooting. Although, I think a lot of the free throw shooting was mental, though, I can’t understand how Sobo went from being so intense that he was warned for taunting to looking like he was choking with the pressure on. In order to sleep tonight I’m going to assume he was just gassed from having to handle Baylor’s press. NU really needs a real backup point guard (Tre Demps needs to get it together quickly), but I will also say that while I thought NU got some calls early that during the period of time where Baylor cut the lead from 18 points to 9 points I thought NU got as homered as any team I’ve ever seen. Baylor defenders were basically pushing Hearn and Sobolewski to the ground and fouls weren’t called. Oh well, bottom line, Northwestern won the game and while we saw major areas where improvement is needed we also saw a stretch of how good this team can be and it looked good.