Men’s Basketball: Pressure defense spurs comeback that falls just short


Daily file photo by David Lee

Bryant McIntosh looks for a teammate. The senior guard had five assists in Wednesday’s loss.

Charlie Goldsmith, Assistant Sports Editor

Men’s Basketball

Bryant McIntosh started celebrating because Northwestern’s trapping press was working. It had given the Wildcats a chance.

With less than two minutes to go in a 6-point game, senior guard McIntosh and senior forward Gavin Skelly swarmed an Ohio State ballhandler and forced a turnover that gave the hosts momentum late against the No. 22 Buckeyes (16-4, 7-0 Big Ten).

Senior guard Scottie Lindsey’s 3-pointer on the following possession brought the Buckeyes’ lead all the way down to three as the culmination of a 16-6 NU (11-9, 2-5) run down the stretch.

After a disappointing offensive showing against Indiana in its last game, Skelly said coach Chris Collins implemented the press to turn around an offense that is sometimes “too hesitant.”

“It kind of gives us a little more energy because we were a little more active, not sitting back in the half court waiting for our guys to come down,” Skelly said. “We just hold the ball, and if the play doesn’t work right, blow it up, sit around and call a ball screen for B-Mac. Sometimes it’s going to work and sometimes it doesn’t.”

The Cats switched from a 2-3 zone to the new defense in the second half, which had Lindsey and junior forward Vic Law trapping Ohio State guard C.J. Jackson as he approached the time line.

It led to the Buckeyes committing six second-half turnovers — the biggest being the one McIntosh and Skelly forced late in the game — and the Cats significantly increased their points per possession in the second half as the pace of the game increased.

NU’s tempo has decreased from last season, and the Cats’ average offensive possession is longer than the national average. Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said the slower offense influenced his team’s playing style, especially as McIntosh and the Cats’ defense started forcing turnovers and poor shots.

But after Lindsey’s 3 left the Cats facing a 3-point deficit, Collins went away from the trapping defense with 41 seconds to go and an 11 second differential between the game and shot clock. Instead of trying to force yet another turnover, he said he told the players to foul when they came to trap.

“If it was one- or a two-point game I would have played it out,” Collins said. “But we were going to try to extend the game and try to get a bucket and make them continue to make free throws.”

After Jackson, whom Collins preferred the Cats not foul, made both of his free throws to extend the Buckeyes lead to five, Vic Law shot a contested 3-point shot in a hurried half-court possession. Lindsey intentionally fouled after the miss and Jackson went to the line again, sealing Ohio State’s 71-65 victory.

With an upcoming game Saturday against Penn State, who held the Cats below their season average in their first meeting, Skelly said he and his teammates are still looking for answers to their problems throughout conference play. From changing defenses to increased pressure, Collins said NU will have to make a bigger impact with its pace of play.

“We wanted to try the best we could to not give them a rhythm,” he said. “If we play like we played tonight, then we’ll put ourselves in a position to be competitive the rest of the way, which is what we’re trying to do.”

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