BY VINNY SIMONE / @VTSimone
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Northwestern set up a date with Notre Dame in the championship game of the Legends Classic with a 77-58 win over No. 22 Texas on Monday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY.
The Wildcats entered the game off a heartbreaking last-second loss at Butler less than a week ago and responded with a performance that at the minimum qualifies as a confidence booster, and could potentially be a launching pad come spring.
Northwestern opened on an 11-0 run in the first four minutes, but another eight minutes later, that early cushion was nothing more than a memory. The Longhorns took off on a 19-7 run midway through the first half and knotted the game at 20 when Eric Davis Jr. picked up the ball off a James Banks block and took it across the court.
Texas didn’t officially grab their first lead until Tevin Mack knocked down a 3-pointer with 7:13 remaining in the first half to put the Longhorns up 23-22. However, Northwestern closed out the first 20 minutes impressively. Following an exchange of triples from junior guard Bryant McIntosh and Mack, the Wildcats closed out the half on a 9-0 run, taking a 34-26 lead into the locker room.
Northwestern continued their streak into the second half, nearly emulating their early-game barrage. The Wildcats opened the final stanza on a 10-1 run, opening up a 17-point lead with 16:46 remaining. Northwestern shot 58% from the field in the second half and maintained a double-digit lead throughout.
“We had a very tough loss on Wednesday at Butler,” Collins said, reflecting on last week. “Teams can go two separate ways after a loss like that. You can go into a tailspin, or you can rally together and come back fighting. There was never a doubt in my mind that our guys were going to keep fighting.”
Monday’s victory marked Northwestern’s first over a ranked opponent since Jan. 29, 2014 at No. 14 Wisconsin, and their first over a non-conference ranked opponent since downing No. 23 Notre Dame Nov. 27, 2009. The 19-point margin of victory was Northwestern’s best since beating No. 14 Iowa 78-58 in 1985.
The Wildcats neutralized Texas coach Shaka Smart’s patented “Havoc” defense thanks largely to the stalwart play of McIntosh. The point guard dished out five assists against just one turnover and led all scorers with 20 points on the evening.
“I was just trying to stay patient, not get sped up and not try to do too much,” McIntosh said of taking on Texas’ defense scheme. “I thought early on I was almost unaggressive, and my guys were challenging me to be a little more aggressive looking to score. Coach was on me a little bit. It was just stay patient and just try to take care of the ball. I knew if we could control the pace of the game then it would give us a great opportunity to win.”
Three other Wildcats finished the night in double figures. Junior guard Scottie Lindsey, who accounted for the first four points of the night, ended up with 16. Freshman guard Isiah Brown and sophomore center Dererk Pardon added 10 points apiece, and Pardon collected his first double-double of the season with 11 rebounds.
Mack, a former VCU commit who followed Smart to Texas, led the Longhorns with 18 points. Texas’ young but talented frontcourt consisting of senior Shaquille Cleare and freshmen Jarrett Allen and James Banks was held to just seven points on 3-of-12 shooting.
Northwestern will take on Notre Dame in the championship round of the Legends Classic on Tuesday evening. The Irish downed Colorado 89-83 in the other semifinal round. For Collins, the opportunity to take on coach Mike Brey and Notre Dame is somewhat personal. Brey was an assistant coach at Duke for three years of Collins’ playing career with the storied program.
“We’re excited to have a chance to play for a championship,” Collins said. “You don’t get that opportunity too many times in a season, and we’ll have that tomorrow night to play against a program and a coach that’s been a mentor to me and someone that I’ve really tried to emulate in building our program.”
Just like we drew it up.
— NU Men’s Basketball (@NUMensBball) November 22, 2016