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Men’s Basketball: Northwestern can’t overcome Indiana in season finale

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Guard Dave Sobolewski embraces guard JerShon Cobb. The seniors played their final career games in Northwestern's 71-56 Big Ten Tournament loss to Indiana.

Guard Dave Sobolewski embraces guard JerShon Cobb. The seniors played their final career games in Northwestern's 71-56 Big Ten Tournament loss to Indiana.

Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Guard Dave Sobolewski embraces guard JerShon Cobb. The seniors played their final career games in Northwestern's 71-56 Big Ten Tournament loss to Indiana.

Bobby Pillote, Assistant Sports Editor

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CHICAGO — History didn’t repeat itself Thursday at the United Center.

A late-season surge of success by No. 10 seed Northwestern (15-17, 6-12 Big Ten), which included a Feb. 25 win over No. 7 seed Indiana (20-12, 9-9), had some believing the Wildcats could pull off an upset in the second round of the Big Ten tournament, but instead the Hoosiers routed NU in a 71-56 blowout. The loss marks the end of the road for the Cats, with coach Chris Collins confirming after the game that NU will not accept any postseason bids.

For Collins, the defeat came down to getting out-muscled.

“(Indiana’s) physicality I thought knocked us back,” he said. “Defensively they did a great job on our key guys and made it tough on us.”

But the real difference in the game was Indiana’s greater number of possessions. The turnover margin was about equal — eight to nine in favor of Indiana — but the Hoosiers obliterated the Cats on the glass.

Indiana had as many offensive rebounds — 20 — as NU had defensive boards, and the Hoosiers achieved a 42-25 rebounding advantage overall which allowed them to attempt 19 more shots than the Cats.

NU’s 2-3 zone defense, despite not boxing out well, still managed to hold Indiana to an average 41.5 percent shooting percentage from the floor. But an onslaught of shots, including 32 3-point attempts, was more than enough to sink the Cats. Collins and his squad also couldn’t come up with an answer to Hoosiers freshman guard James Blackmon Jr., who scored a game-high 25 points on 8-of-15 shooting and added six rebounds and seven assists.

And it didn’t help that NU couldn’t produce any consistent offense of its own. The Hoosiers were the worst defense in the conference this season, yielding 71.8 points per contest, but locked down the Cats for a full 40 minutes.

Junior guard Tre Demps epitomized NU’s struggles. The team needed one of his best performances to steal a victory and got anything but, with Demps posting 4 points of 2-of-5 shooting with just one assist.

Indiana coach Tom Crean identified the embattled guard as the focal point of his defensive game plan and commended his players’ effort in shutting him down.

“The bottom line is it all starts with Demps,” Crean said. “The first time we played them he had 23 (points). Going after a player like him is crucial.”

With Demps limited, junior center Alex Olah and freshman guard Bryant McIntosh did all they could to keep NU afloat. McIntosh laid in a team-high 13 points and had five assists and Olah contributed 12 points and seven boards.  But the pair received little help from the bench. The next highest scorer was senior guard JerShon Cobb, with just 7 points.

The stalwart performance from the Hoosiers was due in part to the team’s extra motivation. Indiana was solidly on the NCAA tournament bubble coming into this contest, but the win likely secures the team a spot in the 68-team field.

Farther down the postseason pecking order there was speculation about the Cats earning a bid to the less-prestigious College Basketball Invitational, but Collins was quick to eulogize the season.

“This is a huge offseason for our program,” he said. “Now we have to develop, get a lot stronger, get a lot tougher physically and mentally. … It’s time to put this season to bed.”

The loss puts a period on a tumultuous year that saw the Cats lose 10 straight conference games before rallying to win five of their last seven in the regular season.

Collins expressed sadness over the end of his second season, but with the return of Demps and Olah for their senior campaigns, the development of a strong core of freshmen that includes McIntosh and forward Vic Law and the addition of four-star recruit Aaron Falzon, he was also optimistic about NU’s chances next year.

“I just think it’s time to move forward,” Collins said. “We’ve got a big core coming back, we’re excited about what we’re going to add. … It’s an exciting time.

Email: bpillote@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @BobbyPillote

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