BY STEFAN MODRICH/@StefanJModrich
CHICAGO — In a game of runs, it didn’t hurt Northwestern to open the Chicago Legends Classic action with an 11-0 lead en route to a 67-64 win over Dayton on Saturday at the United Center.
It was also a tale of two halves – in the first of which the Wildcats (9-2) held the Flyers (7-3) to 17 points, a season low for a Northwestern opponent, while also holding Dayton to a 14.3% clip from the field.
“It’s probably the best half of basketball we’ve played on both ends,” said head coach Chris Collins. “To hold that team to 4-of-28 from the floor, and score 40 points and shoot 52 percent from the floor against a hard-nosed defense was a great 20 minutes.”
Junior guards Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey (11 points and four rebounds) had the hot hand early. Lindsey knocked down a pair of threes in the first three minutes off of feeds from McIntosh, who chipped in 13 points and five assists, a game-high.
But, as Collins said, senior forward Sanjay Lumpkin, who led Northwestern with 14 points and a career high 14 rebounds, “sets the tone for us.”
“Certainly Sanjay was magnificent,” Collins said. “He was awesome. His rebounding, his defense, his offense. He was the guy.”
Lumpkin was active on the defensive glass, and along with McIntosh was a co-leader for the Wildcats with 36 minutes played.
“We did a great job of sharing the ball,” Lumpkin said. “I was just trying to stay aggressive on the glass and collect as many rebounds as I could.”
Redshirt sophomore forward Vic Law had 8 points and 9 rebounds, and Collins acknowledged the contributions of sharpshooter Nathan Taphorn (11 points) and Isiah Brown (8 points) off the bench when fatigue began to set in for the starters.
Law jammed home an alley-oop on a feed from Lumpkin that drew plenty of raucous approval from the United Center crowd, including throngs of Dayton fans which made the trip west.
Here’s Vic Law’s finish on the alley-oop from Sanjay Lumpkin. Northwestern ahead 18-8 at the under 12 timeout, 11:39 to play in the half. pic.twitter.com/cjUuQE2nbR
— Stefan Modrich (@StefanJModrich) December 18, 2016
After Northwestern’s explosive first half in which the Wildcats led by as many as 24, Collins said he expected some pushback from Dayton – and the Flyers bounced back to shoot 52% in the second half and went 7-of-15 from behind the arc.
“We had to extend some minutes because of foul trouble, (junior forward Gavin Skelly) was in foul trouble a lot,” Collins said. “We just had to gut out those last eight minutes and withstand their runs and their pressure.”
But even after all that, the Flyers climbed back thanks to a Northwestern field goal drought that spanned eight minutes.
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“We knew they were going to make their push at the end,” Law said. “In games like this last year, I think we weren’t as mentally tough… I think we learned from our mistakes.”
Leading by three with 2.4 left to play, Law inbounded the ball to McIntosh, who dove to the floor with Dayton’s Kyle Davis in a scramble for possession. The refs initially gave possession to Dayton, but the call on the floor was reversed despite what appeared to be inconclusive replay evidence.
“In years past, this was a game that maybe we would have given up that lead in the second half,” Lumpkin said. “A lot of guys stepped up and made big free throws down the stretch, and that was important for us.”
With quality wins against Texas and Wake Forest and close losses to Butler and Notre Dame, Saturday’s win over Dayton was potentially a barometer for Northwestern’s NCAA tournament fitness, and could give the Wildcats a boost as Big Ten play approaches.
“This was a game that we knew this was going to be a high-level game,” Collins said. “We were able to answer the call and play good basketball and win, which is a good feeling.”
Northwestern hosts IUPUI at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Tuesday, Dec. 20 at 7 p.m.