Enjoy win while you still can

Matt Baker

Don’t let the final score fool you.

Yes, Northwestern used a strong second half to pull away from Texas-Pan American for a 68-59 win.

But what the box score doesn’t tell you is that these Wildcats, who are still searching for their first Big Ten victory, aren’t just bad.

They’re awful.

So awful that they needed a scoring blitz in the final 11 minutes to come back against the lowly Broncs.

So awful that a child during the halftime promotional contest shot better from beyond the arc (1 of 2) than NU did in the first half (1 of 10).

So awful that the Cats won’t win another game this season.

If anyone still had hope of a Big Ten victory after Sunday’s 33-point thrashing by a mediocre Illinois team, the first 30 minutes of Wednesday night’s debacle squashed those dreams.

In the first half, NU outshot, outblocked and outrebounded the smaller Broncs – but still managed to trail by four at the break.

Texas-Pan American played well and made the most of its uncontested shots, but the Cats’ mixture of missed rebounds, traveling penalties, foolish fouls and seven turnovers kept NU out of the lead.

“We were lucky to be down four at the half,” coach Bill Carmody said.

Eventually, the Cats came through with their best eight minutes of the season near the end of the game to seize the lead for good.

But even in the final moments, NU didn’t know how to put the game away.

The Cats had four turnovers, a missed lay-up and three bricked free-throws on the front end of one-and-ones in the final three minutes to keep Texas-Pan American’s upset hopes alive.

“We shot 80 percent (on free-throws) tonight?” Carmody said after looking at a box score. “It seemed like we missed every foul shot we took.”

Making free-throws down the stretch and easy buckets early in games are things winning teams do regularly – and things NU just doesn’t know how to do period.

After the Broncs took a seven-point lead with 1:10 left in the first half, junior guard Craig Moore missed a 3, but sophomore guard Jeremy Nash skied to tip the ball in.

But the referees called goal-tending and waved the basket off.

As the 2,984 fans at Welsh-Ryan Arena rained boos on the court, Carmody shook his head, turned away from the officials and laughed to himself.

Everything seemed to be going wrong. What else could he do?

And, facing bigger, faster, more talented opponents in the rest of conference play – including freshman superstar Eric Gordon and No. 11 Indiana on Sunday – everything seems to be going wrong for the Cats.

So what else can NU hope to do?

“I don’t think you can put a number on it necessarily,” sophomore Kevin Coble said when asked to identify NU’s goals for the rest of conference play. “I think it’s more of a total goal of improving every game.”

Well, I think I can put a number on it: zero.

Yes, if Coble has another 29-point night, freshman guard Michael Thompson drives to the basket like he did in the second half and the Cats play with the intensity they had in the final 10 minutes Wednesday night, NU could steal a conference win or two.

But if the Cats have lapses of missed layups, traveling penalties and careless passes like they had during the first 30 minutes – or in almost every other game this season – don’t count on it.