For Northwestern, the ACC-Big Ten Challenge was, well, a challenge.
Despite a fairly dismal first half in which Drew Crawford and Alex Olah struggled noticeably, Northwestern managed to hang around with future Big Ten rivals Maryland. Gritty defensive play, leading to 11 Terrapin turnovers helped NU combat a terrible shooting period (9-28 from the field), and somehow the Wildcats were only down two going into the break.
That changed quickly.
Maryland came back out swinging behind center Alex Len and never looked back, overwhelming the hapless Wildcats with their size, strength and improved shooting. Northwestern didn’t help their cause much, lapsing defensively and on the glass as Maryland outrebounded them by a 47-19 margin.
“In the second half we didn’t guard them and our offense was pretty much the same,” said head coach Bill Carmody. “[The rebounding differential] was about 15 at half, and I attribute that to being 3-16 [from behind the arc]. We were taking too many threes too soon, not even giving ourselves a chance to get to the boards.”
Carmody cited inconsistent practice time as problematic. After returning from their victory in South Padre Island, the Wildcats had taken only one day to prepare seriously for Maryland. However, players were adamant they had been fully briefed for the Terrapins.
“We knew exactly what Maryland was going to do this game,” said sophomore Dave Sobolewski. “The coaches showed us great film and we simply didn’t execute, especially in the second half. That’s obviously the main focus, we just have to improve on the defensive end and on the glass.”
On the offensive side, Northwestern found some success in the first half, scoring off several backdoor cuts. But the team had issues running through their sets the second time around, continuing with iffy shot selection and failing to expose their opponents.
“We’ve been struggling a little bit trying to get the pulse and tempo of the game,” said Carmody. “I felt if we ran through our stuff we’d get easy baskets. We were a little too quick on the trigger and didn’t really make them guard us.”
It was a rough night all around for the Wildcats. Chalk it up to defense, rebounding, or an often-stagnant Princeton attack. The bottom line was, Northwestern’s shots just didn’t fall.
“Some of our shots were rushed, but at the same time they’re shots I think we know we can make,” said senior Reggie Hearn. “We didn’t make them play us defensively. They had an advantage in size, I think we had an advantage in speed and didn’t make them work. If those shots go in it’s a different story, and they didn’t.”
In the greater scheme of things, the loss shouldn’t hurt the Wildcat’s resume, but rather it was a missed opportunity for a solid win. Sobolewski emphasized that despite quality opposition, it was simply an early-season misstep. Though there were no smiles to be found post-game, there were also no excuses.
“We have to be able to play with these guys, especially at home,” said Carmody. “I think we were all disappointed and we’ll come back at it, work hard and get this thing turned around.”
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