In front of a sold-out crowd at Welsh-Ryan Arena, Northwestern used a 20-2 run in the first half to defeat Indiana 68-55.
The game started off with the Hoosiers going inside to forward Thomas Bryant, who got Indiana out to a 10-1 lead nearly five minutes into the game. Eventually the basketball found its way through the net for the Wildcats, who started 0-of-7 from the field.
However after a Sanjay Lumpkin layup gave Northwestern its first field goal of the game, things began to click. A few minutes later the Wildcats went on the 20-2 run to take a lead. At that point, Northwestern led 21-12 with under eight minutes in the first half.
“Defense was the story of the game,” said coach Chris Collins. “We focused on cutting down their fast-break points. We are a tough-minded team and we are a function of each other on the floor. We are not a one man band, we play team defense and get on the boards. We are not the biggest team, but we battle. We have the will to win and a will to want to play defense.”
That was definitely the case as the Wildcats held the conference’s top-ranked scoring offense to 32% shooting from the field, although the Hoosiers were without leading scorer James Blackmon Jr. due to an injury. They also held the Hoosiers to two fast-break points and forced 10 turnovers in the first half (13 for the game), that they were able to convert into 17 points.
“We had missed opportunities,” said Indiana coach Tom Crean. “We left points on the board with missed free-throws, turnovers, and them scoring off those turnovers especially in the first half.”
Northwestern was led by junior floor general Bryant McIntosh who had 21 points and 8 assists. With his play, the Wildcats are now 18-4 and for the first time since 1937 they are 7-2 in conference play. With the success and possible top 25 recognition Coach Collins understands the team is under the microscope but hopes to keep his guys focused.
“I worry about [the attention] every second,” Collins said. “What could derail what is going good. I am proud of the success thus far, but I understand the fine line between losing and winning in this conference.”
Lumpkin, a senior captain, followed by stating: “We look for extra motivation each game to stay grounded and focused.”
Northwestern out-rebounded the Hoosiers 41-37, and dished out 12 assists on 23 made field goals.
Indiana (14-8, 4-5 Big Ten) was led by Bryant, who had 23 points and 12 rebounds.
There is definitely a lot of excitement brewing especially in and around the Chicagoland area for the Wildcats and deservingly so. Northwestern will start their second half of conference play on Wednesday, as they head to West Lafayette for a match-up with the ranked Boilermakers of Purdue.