Men’s Basketball: Northwestern earns sixth-straight win despite slow start against Indiana


Rachel Dubner/Daily Senior Staffer

Bryant McIntosh smiles amid a stellar performance. The junior guard led the Wildcats with 21 points and 8 assists in Sunday’s victory.

Garrett Jochnau, Sports Editor

Men’s Basketball

Five minutes into Sunday’s contest, Northwestern watched Indiana jump out to a 10-1 lead, putting the game on the brink of turning ugly. And it did, just not in the direction the opening minutes suggested.

The Wildcats responded with three-straight scores before the under-16 timeout. Moments later, when senior forward Sanjay Lumpkin followed junior guard Bryant McIntosh’s go-ahead shot with a steal and slam — seemingly breaking Welsh-Ryan Arena’s sound barrier in the process — NU had captured momentum it would never surrender.

With a crowd of 8,117 providing an animated backdrop, the Cats (18-4, 7-2 Big Ten) coasted to the 68-55 victory, riding stifling team defense and a stellar performance from McIntosh to their sixth-straight Big Ten win — their longest conference winning streak since 1933.

“They bullied us a little bit on the boards early,” the junior guard said. “Offensively early, we were a little bit jittery. … There’s a lot of things we can grow from, but we put ourselves in great position to win.”

The decisive 20-2 first-half run came after NU stumbled out of the gate, missing its first seven field goals and letting the Hoosiers (14-8, 4-5) gain the upper hand inside.

But Lumpkin, who finished with 15 points, eventually put the Cats on the board, opening the floodgates as McIntosh dazzled as both a scorer and distributor. Senior forward Nathan Taphorn, who later exited with a rolled ankle, capped the critical surge with back-to-back scores before Indiana’s Devonte Green ended his team’s eight-minute field goal drought with a 3.

Though NU never again scored more than 5-straight without the visitors responding, the damage was done.

McIntosh stretched his impressive start into a 21-point, eight-assist outing. Lumpkin’s early play also set the stage for his best scoring performance this year, while his defensive example helped the Cats hold Indiana to a mere 32 percent shooting clip.

“The defense was the story of this game,” coach Chris Collins said. “Our team defense was really good tonight, and something we really concentrated on coming into this game was trying to take away their fastbreak points and making them score in the half court.”

Eventually, the Hoosiers deployed a box-and-one defense to isolate McIntosh, which put NU on its heels, according to the guard. Even so, the hosts’ lead never dipped below 12 in the final minutes.

The Cats also had to fight off foul trouble to sophomore center Dererk Pardon, but found serviceable minutes from freshman center Barret Benson. Junior guard Scottie Lindsey and sophomore forward Vic Law also struggled from the field, combining for 8-of-26 shooting, but NU’s offense still hummed thanks to McIntosh’s superstar performance.

“That’s the B-Mac we know, that’s the B-Mac we see everyday in practice,” Lumpkin said. “He thrives in big games like this.”

The win brings NU closer to their first NCAA Tournament visit, though Wednesday’s looming road test against a ranked Purdue team offers the Cats their first chance to steal the signature Big Ten win that could crystallize their postseason hopes.

But entering that game, the Cats have plenty of reasons to be optimistic. The basketball world is treating them like a tournament team and, with the stakes as high as ever Sunday, NU delivered.

“It felt like big time college basketball,” Collins said. “We have ways to go. We’re not where we want to be, we’re just enjoying this process each step of the way.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @GarrettJochnau