Men’s Basketball: Offensive struggles doom Northwestern to sixth straight loss

Rohan Nadkarni, Reporter

For all the excitement Chris Collins has brought to Northwestern, the end of his first season in Evanston is starting to look very much like the end of Bill Carmody’s last one.

The Wildcats (12-17, 5-11 Big Ten) fell to Nebraska (17-11, 9-7) 54-47 on Saturday in Lincoln, Neb. The defeat was NU’s sixth straight loss of the season. Last year, the Cats dropped their final eight contests.

As it has in most games this season, NU hung around for most of the day, but the Cornhuskers began pulling away in the final 10 minutes of the second half. Nebraska’s switch to a zone defense confused the Cats on the offensive end, while foul trouble and a lack of size sunk NU defensively.

But NU still managed to make a late run. Senior forward Drew Crawford hit a 3-pointer to bring the Cats within 51-47 with 1:15 left. A stop on the other end gave NU the ball with just over 45 seconds to go, but an offensive foul on redshirt freshman forward Sanjay Lumpkin gave the ball back to the Cornhuskers and ended the rally.

“We just had multiple actions, bunch of stuff going on (that play) whether it was to the basket or a 3,” coach Chris Collins told WGN radio after the game. “Sanjay is wide open at the top. He’s got to take that shot. But he’s only a freshman, and that’s part of the learning process.”

Both offenses struggled shooting the ball, reminiscent of the teams’ matchup in Evanston in February.

The Cats made just 15 of 45 field goals. Even at the free throw line, NU struggled, hitting only 10 of 16 attempts. Nebraska wasn’t much better, converting only 19 of 52 from the field.

NU also held star Cornhusker guard Terran Petteway to only 12 points on 3-of-12 shooting.

Sophomore center Alex Olah performed well for the Cats. His full game was on display, working in the post as well as stepping outside and hitting multiple 3s. He finished the game with 20 points and seven rebounds.

“Alex has been tremendous,” Collins said. “He was great against Indiana, and he was great today. You can’t ask anything more of the big fella. He’s only going to get better.”

Crawford, playing his first and last game in Lincoln, had trouble putting the ball in the basket. He often found lanes driving to the hoop but couldn’t finish as many of his layup attempts rimmed out.

With junior guard JerShon Cobb out for the rest of the season, Collins turned to others hoping to find offense. Junior guard Dave Sobolewski, sophomore forward Kale Abrahamson and freshman forward Nate Taphorn all saw action Saturday, but combined for only 1-of-6 shooting. Sophomore guard Tre Demps also had to pick up the offensive slack.

“I thought they had a good demeanor,” Collins said. “They played hard, but we need some guys to step up and give us some offense and take pressure off Drew, Tre and Alex.”

Despite the lack of accuracy from the field, Collins said he thought his offense executed well. Ultimately, it came down to not converting good looks.

“At the end of the day, you have to make some shots,” Collins said. “We had wide open shots you have to make to win on the road. We just didn’t.”

NU’s attention now turns to Thursday’s contest with Penn State, the team’s final home game of the season. The Cats will have to win at least one of their last two to avoid ending another year with an eight-game losing streak.

“We have to go in with fresh minds, fresh bodies. That’s how we have to go into these last games,” Collins said. “We have to get home. We have to get rested and put a gameplan together to see if we can get one on Thursday night.”

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