Men’s Basketball: Northwestern coasts to semi-finals win over Bradley

Charlie Goldsmith, Reporter

Men’s Basketball

Northwestern has never won an early season tournament under coach Chris Collins, and the way this Wildcats had started the season, this didn’t look like the team to break that spell.

But then Monday against Bradley, sophomore forward Pete Nance pinned a shot against the glass and flexed in the game’s opening minutes. Sophomore forward Miller Kopp started heating up from three. Graduate guard Pat Spencer had a career high in points by halftime. Everything that could go right happened for NU, a team Collins admitted has been extremely inconsistent to start the season.

This was what the Cats can look like at their best, and now they’re headed to the finals of the Fort Myers Tip-Off.

In the semifinals, NU (3-2) won 78-51 against Bradley (4-2), a No. 15 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament. The Braves have a reputation as one of the most physical teams in the NCAA, but the Cats outplayed them in almost every category Monday night.

“It’s really fun for me to see them have a night like tonight and see them be what they’ve been working towards,” Collins said. “We’ve had some tough nights and tough losses early in the season, and a lot of people have counted us out… Certainly tonight was a step forward from this group.”

Bradley took a six-point lead at the start of the game, but it all flipped for NU after Nance’s two-handed block against the backboard. The Cats went on a 16-2 run early to take control of the game, and by halftime they had almost twice as many points as the Braves. Bradley didn’t make a shot in the last 10 minutes of the half, while NU made 9 of 16 down heading into the break.

The lead never dipped below 17 points after the intermission, and now the Cats are looking their best heading into Wednesday’s game against Pittsburgh.

Spencer finished with 23 points, including two fearless deep 3-point shots at the start of the second half. The starting point guard piloted the offense as well as he has all season, finishing with eight assists and several made contested floaters.

It was the best game of Spencer’s career. Heading into the contest, he’d made only 30 percent of his shots and had one of the worst three-point shooting percentages in the country. But Spencer made nine of twelve shots and three from beyond the arc, showing what he looks like when he’s hitting on all cylinders.

“He attacks when he needs to and when he sees an open lane he’s going to take it” Kopp said. “We had a practice last week where he made deep threes like he did tonight, so it’s not a surprise to any of us.”

Just three days ago, the Braves beat Radford 70-61, and the Highlanders beat the Cats earlier this season at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Heading into the game, Bradley was among the best teams in the country at securing offensive rebounds and forcing turnovers, but NU had the advantage in both of those areas Monday.

In a complete turnaround from the inconsistent start to the season, the Cats had their biggest margin of victory since beating Chicago State last December. NU will play for a championship Wednesday, and Collins said that would be a major accomplishment for a team with as little experience as his.

“We’ve had our ups and downs, as everybody has seen, and we’re really a work in progress,” Collins said. “But I thought tonight we really put a lot of things together, which was exciting to see as a coach.”

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