Men’s Basketball: Northwestern’s strong defense paves way for second-half run against Indiana

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Rafi Letzter/Daily Senior Staffer

Northwestern guard Dave Sobolewski (3) avoids Indiana guard Yogi Ferrell (11) to get into the lane in the first half of Indiana’s win Sunday. Sobolewski scored 9 points on 2-of-9 shooting.

Ava Wallace, Assistant Sports Editor

Second verse, same as the first? Not so for Northwestern this afternoon.

As far as their second half play, NU (11-8, 2-4 Big Ten) players had nothing to hang their head about after a 67-59 loss to No. 2 Indiana (16-2, 4-1) in front of a divided crowd at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

First, the Wildcats beat the Hoosiers on the scoreboard in the second half, 42-36. 

Especially after the Wildcats’ defense certainly did its best to keep up with the Hoosiers’ quick passes and aggressive drives but came up short offensively, the Cats’ can be proud of their improvement on their dismal first half bounty: only 17 points.

Shooting, in particular, improved from the first half, when NU shot just 20.8 percent from the field. Only graduate student forward Jared Swopshire sank a lone three pointer, despite 9 total Wildcat attempts from deep.

But after the break, play was a different story.

In the second half, NU committed 4 fewer turnovers – going from 5 in the first half down to just 1 in the second – and shot 50 percent from the field. The Cats also bested Indiana’s second half shooting average by more than 6 percentage points.

The Wildcats were also executing their set offensive plays more efficiently and shared the ball more — with 9 assists compared to 4 in the first half — despite the fact that in the first, senior guard Reggie Hearn was responsible for 9 of his team’s 17 points.

Aggressiveness also played a major role in the Cats’ scoring increase. NU went to the free throw line 15 times during the second half, which sophomore guard Dave Sobolewski attributed to his team driving more in the paint. 

Swopshire received some company from the line in the second half. Hearn made 7 of his 8 free throws and Sobolewski and freshman guard Tre Demps hit 2 apiece.

In addition to a newfound assertiveness, Hearn attributed the Cats’ second-half run to a better pace on offense after taking too long to execute set plays at times during the first half.

“I remember the other day I said we wanted to maintain tempo,” Hearn said. “But in the second half we didn’t try to bleed the clock as much and I think we were just executing our offense better.”

Both Hearn and Sobolewski said the offense improved as a result of their stronger defensive second half, which was reminiscent of the staunch defense fans saw at Illinois on Thursday.

As the Hoosiers struggled with the Cats’ 1-3-1 defense, NU nearly halved Indiana’s field goal opportunities, keeping them to 15 attempts as opposed to the 27 they shot in the first half.

Although NU and Indiana traded leads briefly at the beginning of the first half, if was an impressive feat to watch the Cats close the deficit on the Hoosiers to just 5 with two minutes left to play.

Both Hearn and Sobolewski have said their defensive play has been on the rise since conference play started. If offense and defense improve in tandem as much as Sobolewski claims, then NU fans may have more to look forward to the rest of the year than previously thought.

“We started defending really well in the second half and then we went to the 1-3-1 zone … so if we can defend, our offense will figure itself out,” Sobolewski said. “If we defend, we’ll be okay.”

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