Men’s Basketball: Northwestern prepares for physical battle against Purdue


Daily file photo by Lauren Duquette

Alex Olah grabs the ball in the paint. The senior center struggled in last year’s matchup with Purdue, scoring only 4 points.

Garrett Jochnau, Reporter

Men’s Basketball

With just five games left in Northwestern’s regular season, time is running out for the Wildcats to snatch a second resume-padding win to accompany January’s victory over Wisconsin.

When NU takes on No. 17 Purdue on the road Tuesday, it will have its best shot to earn that signature win before the postseason arrives. The Cats have momentum coming off a two-point home win over Illinois, but the Boilermakers present a fresh challenge unlike any the team has seen thus far, coach Chris Collins said.

“They’re a power team,” Collins said. “They’re an inside-out team. You don’t see that as much anymore, in college or pro.”

His comments specifically target Purdue’s frontcourt, which features 7-foot senior A.J. Hammons at the center position, freshman big Caleb Swanigan beside him in the starting lineup and all 7 feet and 2 inches of sophomore Isaac Haas off the bench.

The trio presents a sizable challenge — both literally and figuratively — for an NU team that’s top-tier talent is concentrated in the backcourt.

“If it’s a smash-mouth type of game, we’re not going to win that battle with them,” Collins said. “We need it to be more of an open court game — spacing, be able to get into gaps, get open shots, hopefully get their big guys away from the basket.”

Collins also mentioned the team’s perimeter players will carry the burden of denying entry passes on the defensive end to counter their opponent’s obvious size advantage.

At the forefront of that effort will be sophomore guard Bryant McIntosh, currently mired in a shooting slump that has seen him shoot over 40 percent from the floor just once in eight games since the Wisconsin win.

“We’ve got to shrink the floor a little bit and gap it up and just try to make their post entries tougher,” McIntosh said. “And then our bigs have to do a good job pushing them out so we can help them as well. So it’s going to take a big team effort.”

The Cats’ trio of bigs will also find themselves with a heavy burden on their shoulders against Purdue’s interior. Senior center Alex Olah is still finding his footing post-injury, most recently having posted 10 points and 7 rebounds in the Illinois victory.

Freshman center Dererk Pardon has quieted down since his impressive emergence. He has been held scoreless in his last two games and averaged just 5 points in the prior three contests.

Graduate transfer center Joey van Zegeren has fallen out of the rotation, totaling just 24 minutes of court time in the last six games.

But all three will need their A-games against a Purdue squad whose post demands ample attention.

“We’ll see how the game’s going, and certainly if it’s getting physical and we need to go to a bigger lineup, I’m confident that Dererk can play with one of the two bigs,” Collins said.

As for his game plan on the boards:

“Pray,” Collins said jokingly, before noting that box-out efforts will be imperative throughout the game, as will keeping the Cats’ bigs out of foul trouble.

And the team is aware that on the heels of a loss, Purdue will be motivated to bounce back. However, Collins said the team is also cognizant of the potential postseason stakes that come with the game, and what a win would mean for the Cats’ NIT Tournament chances.

“When you have a chance to play a top-25 team on their home floor, it’s a great opportunity,” Collins said. “I know we’re going to see them at their best, so it’ll be a great test to see where we’re at as a team.”

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