Men’s Basketball: Wildcats hoping for complementary scoring against Michigan State

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Daily file photo by Jacob Swan

Bryant McIntosh shoots the ball over the defense. The sophomore guard has averaged over 35 minutes per game this season, second-most on the team.

Max Schuman, Assistant Sports Editor


Men’s Basketball


In Sunday’s blowout loss at the hands of then-No. 25 Indiana, the lone bright spot was the play of two struggling seniors: guard Tre Demps and center Alex Olah. But while the duo combined for 36 points and shot efficiently, the rest of the Wildcats scored just 21 points in the 89-57 loss.

Sophomore guard Bryant McIntosh shot poorly on the day, and without other players picking up the slack, Northwestern (15-6, 3-5 Big Ten) couldn’t keep up with the potent Hoosiers. It’s been an all-too-familiar story for the Cats in conference play, as NU has scored just 61.6 points per game in the Big Ten after averaging 79.9 beforehand.

Coach Chris Collins said the key to fixing his team’s offense is getting points from the Cats’ complementary players.

“We’ve been at our best when (freshman forward Aaron Falzon) is a double-figure scorer,” Collins said. “Guys like (sophomore guard) Scottie Lindsey, guys like (sophomore forward Gavin) Skelly and (junior forward Nathan) Taphorn … we’ve got to find ways to have them lessen the load.”

Pegged as NU’s leading 3-point threat, Falzon has struggled to find his way against Big Ten defenses. The freshman has canned 37 percent of his 3s in conference play, but his shooting has been streaky with well-prepared opponents running him off easy looks.

When his shots don’t fall, Falzon hasn’t offered much else offensively for the Cats, as 74.2 percent of his shots in the Big Ten have been from distance. Collins said Falzon’s lack of familiarity with the college game has been a factor in his struggles to score consistently.

“A lot of it is youth,” Collins said. “(He is) a freshman, and (he’s) going through this thing for the first time.”

Meanwhile, Lindsey has rarely been a factor in the conference slate, averaging 3.8 points in just 18 minutes per game in Big Ten play. Junior forward Sanjay Lumpkin’s offensive output has tailed off mightily after a strong start to the season, while Taphorn has averaged just 8.6 minutes per game against more athletic conference opponents.

With two or more of Falzon, Lindsey, Lumpkin and Taphorn on the floor at almost all times without offering a consistent threat, opponents from keying on NU’s lead guards, something McIntosh said he has noticed.

“They’re doubling my ball screens a lot, making me give it up,” McIntosh said. “When I give it up, we have a 4-on-3 at some point … we haven’t done a great job taking advantage.”

With No. 12 Michigan State (17-4, 4-4) coming to Evanston on Thursday, the Cats’ headliners will have a tough time outplaying Spartans star guard Denzel Valentine. The senior is a well-rounded force and Wooden Award contender, averaging 18.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game.

Additionally, Michigan State is well-equipped to keep NU from easy points on the offensive glass and in transition. The Spartans have the second-best rebounding margin in the Big Ten and are near the bottom of the country in possessions per game.

Olah said he expects a physical battle inside against Michigan State.

“We had a really good practice yesterday where we used pads, we used everything, to get tougher,” he said. “I feel we can match up with them on every possession.”

Against the rugged Spartans, finding a way to squeeze offense out of every player on the floor could be crucial for the Cats’ hopes of mounting an upset bid. But if NU fails to find a way to complement its stars, the team could be in for another long night offensively.

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