Men’s Basketball: Despite early lead, Northwestern’s offense struggles down the stretch


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Chris Collins looks at the court. Northwestern shot just 33 percent from the field in Tuesday’s loss.

Drew Schott, Reporter

Nearly four minutes had passed in the first half when graduate guard Pat Spencer made a smooth layup for his seventh point of the night, giving Northwestern a 12-4 lead over Radford. The Wildcats’ offense was efficient — featuring solid ball movement and wide-open looks resulted in an 83 percent field goal percentage.

But then, NU stopped scoring. For twelve minutes.

Eventually, senior forward A.J. Turner made a free throw that broke the scoring drought. But the damage was done. The Cats’ offense faltered for the remainder of the half, scoring only five points over the next fifteen minutes, while the Highlanders scored 27 points to take a commanding 31-17 lead at the break.

“We started off that first four (minutes) super aggressive and we put the pressure down,” sophomore forward Miller Kopp said. “After that, we took a couple tough ones and they went on a run and we really didn’t respond well.”

NU’s (1-2) inefficient offense continued into the second half, and despite a late run, was a key aspect of the Cats’ 67-56 loss to Radford (2-2) at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

NU struggled to find good looks near the basket throughout the night, taking numerous off-balance jumpers, heavily contested shots in the post and well-defended threes during the contest. As a result, the Cats shot 33 percent from the field and an abysmal 3-for-21 from behind the arc.

“We took some bad shots,” coach Chris Collins said. “About our inability to score… I gotta help these guys. I gotta put them in better positions. We got to work on our offense… and try to avoid those droughts going forward.”

Clean passing and a relaxed pace of play helped NU jump out to its early eight-point lead. But as the Highlanders made their run, the Cats’ offense, feeling pressure to keep up with Radford’s red-hot 3-point shooting, seemed shaken up.

NU struggled to score points in the paint as inside post moves by redshirt freshman center Ryan Young and freshman forward Robbie Beran were heavily defended. As a result, players such as freshman guard Boo Buie began to rely on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers that failed to fall.

Additionally, the Cats’ 10 total turnovers, ranging from errant passes to slapdash dribbling, hindered their attempts to develop scoring attempts down low.

“We got kind of quick trigger happy,” Collins said. “Radford’s quickness got us a little bit sped up and we just settled for some really quick long jump shots. Even though those are shots that maybe guys can make, we have to do a better job of running good offense and trying to get the ball into the paint.”

Despite only making one 3-pointer in the second half, NU’s offense gradually improved. The Cats made more efficient passes that led to open shots and allowed Radford to score more than double their first half points in the final 20 minutes. However, the Highlanders’ offense never slowed down and eventually stunted NU’s late 11-0 run.

Collins, calling NU’s offensive inefficiency “a growing pain,” said the team’s performance against against Radford will be a great learning experience because many of the Cats’ players, such as Spencer and Buie, are new to the offense.

Sophomore forward Pete Nance, who scored 16 points in the loss, said the team will eventually solve their offensive issues, especially when it comes to shooting the ball.

“Every day we’re working on it,” Nance said. “We’re just trying to come to each game with a clear mindset. You know they’re going to start falling eventually.”

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