After Butler beat Northwestern 74-65 on Saturday, it was easy to see the major contributors.
Andrew Smith bullied the Northwestern bigs with 24 points, 19 of which came in the second half. And Rotnei Clarke, to no one’s surprise, knocked down four of his six three point attempts.
When Brad Stevens entered the postgame press conference, however, he was quick to spread the praise. Stevens pointed out Erik Fromm, who pulled down eight rebounds in relief. Kellen Dunham, as he has done often this season, provided an offensive spark with 11 points.
In the decisive win, Butler showcased depth Northwestern could only dream of having.
The final statistics prove somewhat deceptive. Redshirt freshman Tre Demps had 15 points, but the rest of the bench had two. It is a recurring problem. Another season, still a shallow bench.
Carmody is uncomfortable taking Dave Sobolewski off the floor – at all. And in the front court, although backup center Mike Turner has shown flashes of good play, he is shooting less than 30 percent. The struggles of Drew Crawford and Jared Swopshire, a combined 4-of-14 from the field, figured into the loss. But those two need some sort of relief.
Sobolewski, who scored 21 points, said it well: “We have to find a way to win when (Drew) is not playing his best.” The natural response: look to the bench. There just isn’t much there.
Of course, everything might change with the return of Nikola Cerina. Alex Marcotullio continues to struggle with back issues. Sanjay Lumpkin could not have contracted mononucleosis at a worse time. Carmody hopes to wear the freshman in, but Lumpkin lost crucial time for development due to illness. There are setbacks, but right now, the lack of bench production is the primary cause of the Wildcats’ issues.
To put it simply, players look tired. Even with a fairly busy travel schedule during nonconference play, key guys are forced to play an absurd number of minutes. Reggie Hearn looked exhausted in the loss to UIC, with an uncharacteristic sloppy performance. Then, in the first game after another Texas road trip, he played 39 minutes. Despite his best efforts in an overall solid performance, the shots were not falling. When your legs are tired, that tends to happen.
And when Swopshire labored through an 0-for-6 shooting effort – the second time in three games that he has been held without a field goal – he was left with no relief. You cannot overstate the value of substitutions for this team. Where Butler excelled, and where guys like Rotnei Clarke had a backup in the midst of foul trouble, Northwestern had no response.
Against Maryland, the NU bench shot 2-for-16. Against UIC, 1-for-7. Analysts and fans alike keep asking the question: Where is Drew? It might be equally fair to expect more from the bench.
Tonight, Demps defined what it meant to be an effective bench player. He entered with fresh legs, injected the team with energy and the 15 points reflected his impact.
It’s not easy to predict what might happen this season. A healthier, more balanced approach could improve NU dramatically. Although every tough loss seems to spark panic for fans of a team accustomed to mediocrity, there is a long way to go.
It only seems natural, in an age of superstars, to concentrate on the best players. For NU, fixing the inconsistency might be a little simpler. The ownership rests on every player who sees minutes.
Kale Abrahamson can slow down his often frenetic play. Turner can shore up his post moves to compete offensively. Demps can establish himself as more than just a streaky player, and give the team a consistent lift.
Winning requires a collective effort, and tonight, it felt like the Cats had no chance with its two top weapons floundering.
Sure, they need to get healthy. But Carmody is not one for excuses.
Without depth, the Cats will quickly find themselves on the outside of the tournament picture. If they can find it, who knows?
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