Men’s Basketball: Northwestern performance, season slipping away

Bobby Pillote, Assistant Sports Editor

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A season that wasn’t supposed to be about results increasingly is for Northwestern, and for all the wrong reasons.

The Wildcats (10-14, 1-10 Big Ten) suffered an abysmal 68-44 loss Tuesday at the hands of Michigan State (16-8, 7-4), a team that NU took to overtime on the road just a month ago. The final score belies a trouncing that saw the Spartans lead by as many as 35 points.

The early-season narrative for the Cats was of a young, developing team that was just a few bad breaks away from scrapping out some close wins. The losses hurt, but it was easy enough to chalk them up as “moral victories” for a squad that was destined for greater things beyond this season.

After three straight double-digit losses in which NU had no shot at victory, and this most recent shelling, it hardly seems like the team is trying.

Second-year coach Chris Collins employed some counterintuitive strategies, like running a 2-3 zone against the second-best 3-point-shooting team in the conference, and debuted some unconventional lineups that featured seldom-used freshmen forward Gavin Skelly and guard Johnnie Vassar.

“I looked out there one time and had four true freshmen on the floor,” Collins said. “That’s what we’re up against.”

It was easy to question what Collins was thinking given the Cats’ box score. In the first half, NU had just four field goals, all from junior guard Tre Demps, and committed an astounding 10 turnovers against just one assist.

Things were no better on the other end of the court, where the Spartans shot 52 percent from beyond the arc and had their way against NU with three players reaching double-digit point totals.

“We just weren’t playing hard,” freshman forward Vic Law said.

It’s difficult to say that a result this bad doesn’t matter. Collins still has the benefit of the doubt with a young roster in his second year as coach, but that trust is being eroded by the Cats’ clear regression through this season.

Twitter: @BobbyPillote