Men’s Basketball: Wildcats’ defensive shortcomings evident in loss to Creighton


Brian Meng/The Daily Northwestern

Senior guard Scottie Lindsey defends Creighton guard Marcus Foster. The Wildcats allowed 92 points in their loss to the Bluejays on Wednesday.

Aidan Markey, Digital Managing Editor

Men’s Basketball

ROSEMONT — A year after its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament, No. 20 Northwestern is learning nothing will be guaranteed for its 2017-18 campaign.

In a 92-88 loss, the Wildcats (2-1) exhibited a porous defense that was carved up at will by an aggressive Creighton (3-0) offense. Bluejays’ junior guard Khyri Thomas led the onslaught with 24 points, and freshman guard Ty-Shon Alexander added a career-high 14. Creighton shot 51.5 percent from the field, and 50 percent from beyond the arc.

The duo, and the majority of the visitor’s perimeter attack, consistently penetrated the NU defense and scored, passed out to the wing for an open shot or drew a foul. The result was a 51-point first-half outing for the Bluejays, the most points the Cats have given up in a half since January 2014, when they gave up 52 in the second half of a 93-67 loss to Iowa.

Coach Chris Collins said defensive problems defined the game for NU.

“The story of the game was really in the first half — our inability to defend them,” Collins said. “We had a number of breakdowns; we didn’t communicate that well.”

Junior forward Vic Law and senior guard Bryant McIntosh catalyzed the Cats’ attack in the second half. Law finished with 30 points, and McIntosh added 24.

But while the offense was clicking for NU, its defensive woes continued.

Thomas continued his offensive torrent into the second half, as he once again picked apart the Cats’ defense, helping the visitors quell NU’s scorching start to the period.

The onslaught continued throughout the remainder of the game. As the teams traded points in the several closing minutes, it became clear that putting together defensive stops would be the deciding factor for the victory.

With just over four minutes remaining, NU had trimmed the lead to two points. The crowd now on its feet, the team looked to be nearing its first lead since early on in the first half.

Cue, Marcus Foster.

The standout senior guard drilled a silencing 3-pointer, seemingly demoralizing the Cats defense. The next possession, he did the same, and the lead ballooned to eight.

This theme held constant as the game wound down. Each time NU seemed to tune up its defensive intensity, a missed rebound or a stellar shot by the Bluejays thwarted the home team’s comeback bid.

McIntosh said the lack of execution on the defensive end was dispiriting to see.

“(It was) just disappointing,” McIntosh said. “We have to do a better job guarding our paint.”

Despite the defense’s struggles, the Cats found themselves down just two with 18 seconds remaining. NU needed one stop — a steal, or even some magic — to save its young undefeated season.

The Cats didn’t get it, and they fell to 2-1 for the second straight season.

Law said heading forward, the team knows scoring a lot simply won’t cut it against other talented teams like Creighton.

“Offense comes and goes,” Law said. “We need to be locked in as a unit defensively.”

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Twitter: @markey2019