Men’s Basketball: Northwestern locks down on defense to top Indiana


Rachel Dubner/The Daily Northwestern

Sanjay Lumpkin celebrates. The senior forward anchored an impressive defensive performance against Indiana.

Max Schuman, Digital Projects Editor

Men’s Basketball

In one of the most hyped games in program history, Northwestern’s defensive effort stole the show.

Despite playing without its leading scorer, James Blackmon, Jr., Indiana (14-8, 4-5 Big Ten) came into Sunday’s matchup with a reputation as a quality offensive team, able to score inside and out. But the Wildcats (18-4, 7-2) proved up to the considerable challenge, holding the Hoosiers to 32 percent shooting from the field in a 68-55 win.

The victory was a coming-out party for a defense that could be the best in the Big Ten and served as a reminder that NU — which shot just 41 percent from the field and 28 percent from 3 on the night — has enough strength on that end of the court to grind out wins when its shots aren’t falling.

All game, the Cats stuffed bodies inside and sent double teams into the post in an effort to contain dangerous Indiana big man Thomas Bryant. And though Bryant ended the game with 23 points, NU largely succeeded in keeping the Hoosiers away from the rim, ceding just 18 points in the paint.

“Our pack-line defense is really tough on teams to get in the paint,” junior guard Bryant McIntosh said. “When you can’t establish something inside, like driving into the paint or playing through the post … it’s hard to score.”

In particular, Sanjay Lumpkin shined, shouldering a heavy defensive workload. The senior forward, known as a leader on that end through his long career at NU, frequently matched up with Bryant in the post and spent other possessions roaming far from his assignment to help inside. His effort all over the floor helped the Cats hold Indiana to its lowest point total of the season to date.

After the game, Lumpkin said NU can lock down anybody with two days of preparation.

“We know that that’s a huge key for our success,” he said. “We are always on the same page. We are so locked in on prep, and that stuff carries over to the game.”

With players like Lumpkin inside and athletic wings like sophomore forward Vic Law and junior guard Scottie Lindsey roaming the perimeter, the Hoosiers had trouble getting anybody going outside of the talented Bryant. NU’s length shut down Indiana’s dribble penetration and turned the Hoosiers over 13 times, resulting in 17 points for the Cats on the other end.

Though the lights were as bright as they’ve ever been Sunday, this level of defensive performance is nothing new for NU. The team led the Big Ten in defensive field goal percentage and 3-point percentage entering the matchup with Indiana, and the Cats sit in the top 10 nationally in blocks per game despite an undersized front line.

But NU’s defense was as devastating as ever against the Hoosiers, giving the Cats an identity to fall back on as they march toward March.

“We try to play team defense, we try to be tough-minded, we try to make teams take tough shots and then do the best we can to get on the boards,” coach Chris Collins said. “Our guys battle. They’ve really embraced that to be good, you’ve got to play good defense.”

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