Sidebar: Cats struggle sans Coble and Ryan

Danny Daly

Moving on without seniors Kevin Coble and Jeff Ryan proved to be as difficult as anticipated.

The scoring and leadership void left by the Wildcats’ top offensive player and a key bench contributor was evident Wednesday in Northwestern’s 67-54 loss to No. 10 Butler at Welsh-Ryan Arena. A lack of execution on both ends was too much to overcome.

“It’s hard for us to win that way,” coach Bill Carmody said. “It seemed like they were in control.”

The Cats struggled to find a rhythm all night against the Bulldogs, turning the ball over 16 times and making more than two consecutive shots only once.

An extended dry spell to start the second half, during which NU scored two points in seven minutes, allowed Butler to seize a double-digit lead it maintained for the rest of the game. And the inability to establish an inside presence early made it harder for the Cats to keep the defense honest.

“Our center position didn’t really give us too much tonight,” Carmody said. “We missed some easy ones in there that normally you hope you make. …They didn’t have to double-team (in the post) because guys weren’t scoring.”

Sophomore center Luka Mirkovic had some chances early, but he couldn’t capitalize. He failed to get two layups above the rim and finished the first half 1-of-5 from the floor. He shot twice more after intermission, missing both tries.

NU also couldn’t get in sync on the perimeter, especially when Butler’s defense clamped down on junior guard Michael Thompson after he made three consecutive 3-pointers in the first nine minutes. The nonexistent post threat kept NU from building on Thompson’s hot streak.

“It was a little too much east-west kind of stuff instead of throwing it (inside),” Carmody said.

The Cats sank just 7-of-23 shots from beyond the arc, even with the Bulldogs giving them more space than anticipated.

It was the same story on the defensive end. NU’s 1-3-1 zone was mostly ineffective, as players were out of position and had difficulty keeping up with Butler’s quick passing.

“That’s what killed us tonight,” Thompson said. “Our rotations were bad, and we just didn’t rebound the ball well. … Butler did a good job of moving the ball. They had us running around all over the place, and we just didn’t get to the right spot at the right time.”

The Bulldogs took advantage of some open looks, particularly during the 12-0 second-half run. Reserves Avery Jukes and Zach Hahn gave Butler a spark, scoring 23 points combined.

Meanwhile, with his depth depleted due to injuries, Carmody scrambled to put together effective combinations, trying to utilize players in new roles.

“We’re kind of doing that on the fly right now,” Carmody said. “We put a few guys in there, and they were ready, but you have to produce.”

Junior forward Ivan Peljusic entered the game on three different occasions when NU needed an infusion of energy, but he didn’t make an impact. In seven minutes, Peljusic took one shot and came up empty on the glass. Following his 20-point, four-steal outburst in his first start, senior guard Jeremy Nash wasn’t much of a factor, either. He scored two points and had zero takeaways against the Bulldogs.

Among non-starters, freshman guard Alex Marcotullio played the most. He was on the court for 15 minutes, mostly in the second half, and finished third on the team with eight points on 3-of-6 shooting.

“He’s been playing pretty well,” Carmody said. “He knows what’s going on, he’s got a good head. Losing (Craig) Moore (to graduation) was one thing, but now with Coble out we have to get some long-range shooting.”

Few expected the Cats to transition to life without two scholarship seniors and not skip a beat. It didn’t help matters that NU had to take on a top-10 team so soon after the injuries.

“In all reality, when you work guys into new roles…it’s tough,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said. “It’s going to take a little bit of time.”[email protected]