Men’s Basketball: Gavin Skelly’s playmaking helps Northwestern shred Bryant’s zone defense

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Daily file photo by Zack Laurence

Gavin Skelly corrals a ballhandler. Skelly put up a career-high 15 points and six assists with no turnovers to help lift the Wildcats over Bryant on Friday.

Ben Pope, Reporter

With Northwestern leading Bryant midway through the first half, junior forward Gavin Skelly found an open space in a pentagon of Bryant defenders and drained a jump shot from the free throw line.

Two and a half minutes later, he found himself in the same position and was able to kick the ball out for a converted 3-pointer by senior forward Nathan Taphorn.

Skelly’s combination of shooting efficiency — he shot 5-for-9 from the field — and passing ability helped the Wildcats (4-2) shred the Bulldogs’ (2-4) defense in an 86-66 win on Friday and gave Skelly career-highs with 15 points and six assists.

“Gavin was a huge difference-maker today,” coach Chris Collins said. “He made unbelievable decisions, whether it was to take it in and score, hit the high-low (or) skip it out for 3s.”

Through the first five games of the season, Collins had primarily used Skelly as the backup center behind sophomore Dererk Pardon or as a short-term energy provider at forward. Skelly was held off the scoresheet entirely in Tuesday’s loss to Notre Dame.
But on Friday, the forward emerged not as a temporary fill-in but as an integral part of the offense, serving as a middleman between the NU’s two primary scoring methods — taking it to the rim or kicking it out for a 3-pointer.

With Bryant running a 2-3 zone on defense, Skelly was often left alone in the high post as the opposing guards pushed out.

“He was really calm and poised in the middle,” sophomore forward Vic Law said. “Their zone was really extended to try to pressure the perimeter guys, and for him to able to come to the middle and make those kind of passes was just fantastic.”

Skelly used his 6-foot-8, 220-pound frame to body his way into the paint on some occasions, and on others used his playmaking vision — Collins called him one of the team’s best passers after the game — to find a man open beyond the arc.

“(If) their middle man in the 2-3 zone comes up on me … I dish down to Dererk. If not, I shoot,” Skelly said, rattling off a mental checklist of options. “If their guard comes to me, wherever he came from, that’s the man he’s supposed to be guarding, (so I) kick to him.”

He checked off a lot from that list, and it showed on the final box score: In addition to the 15 points and six assists, the Ohio native also added six rebounds and three blocks and went 5-for-5 at the free throw line, all while committing just one foul and no turnovers.
The all-around strong play earned Skelly a season-high 26 minutes of playing time. But that is a season-high he hopes won’t be an aberration.
“They trust me to make the right plays,” Skelly said. “Today I think I proved that I can do it.”

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