Men’s Basketball: Northwestern loses Big Ten opener to Purdue 58-44


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Pete Nance talks to his teammates. The sophomore forward was the lone player to score in double figures for NU on Sunday.

Charlie Goldsmith, Reporter

Men’s Basketball

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — As Northwestern’s bus drove toward Mackey Arena before Sunday’s game at Purdue, Chris Collins thought about how over half the players in his rotation had never played a Big Ten game. Pat Spencer, Ryan Young and three other key bench players had never set foot into a hostile Big Ten environment, never played in a packed college arena and never had to take a free throw with 10 thousand-plus fans begging them to miss.

Collins also thought about how more experienced teams than Northwestern have seen disaster in West Lafayette. Just last Wednesday, No. 5 Virginia lost to Purdue by 29 points here and saw all of its early season momentum crumble under the deafening noise in one of the country’s loudest arenas.

The Wildcats didn’t win Sunday, but they didn’t fold, either. After NU (4-4, 0-1 Big Ten) lost to Purdue (6-3, 1-0), 58-44, Collins said the Cats didn’t look anything like the team that lost to Merrimack last month and played better than he expected considering the circumstances.

“There’s a lot of good teams that come in here and just get run out of the gym,” Collins said. “I didn’t know how our young guys were going to compete with this crowd, with this energy and the way they defend. For us to come out and compete the way we did, that was a real positive.”

NU had a chance, down seven points with less than four minutes to go. Unlike Virginia a few days before, the Cats kept the Boilermakers from getting wide open shots at the three-point line. But NU didn’t score again until the final seconds of the game, and sophomore forwards Pete Nance and Miller Kopp missed contested shots in the final scoreless stretch.

Before going quiet in the last four minutes, Nance kept NU in the game. He scored double digit points against a high or mid-major opponent for the first time in his career, finishing with 14. The Boilermakers couldn’t find a defender who could stop him, as Nance powered his way to the rim against their guards and jetted to the three-point line against their bigs.

He opened the game with two three-pointers that gave the Cats an early lead, and he scored seven points in the second half off post-ups to keep the deficit around seven points. But he was the only player who finished in double figures, and the rest of the team shot just 29 percent from the field and was unable to provide the needed spark in the last four minutes.

Even though he was the only player to find his rhythm offensively, Nance said he was impressed to see how such an inexperienced roster responded to their first test of the season against a top-25 caliber team.

“We weren’t really frazzled,” Nance said. “We just got beat on gameplan stuff. We’ve just got to figure out how to win. We’re a young group, and we’ll definitely figure it out.”

On the other side, Purdue’s grizzled veterans played like they’d been there before. The Boilermakers’ game plan was built around their two-big lineup, featuring centers Matt Haarms and Trevion Williams who combined for 20 points and 14 rebounds.

They also held freshman center Ryan Young to just 3 points and cut off graduate guard Pat Spencer every time he drove the lane. Haarms blocked Spencer’s shot twice in the second half and affected several others, keeping NU’s best creator from finding any confidence.

Purdue made 15 of its 25 shots in the paint, scoring over half of its points through Nance, Young or freshman center Jared Jones in the post. Haarms made three layups in the final six minutes to give the Boilermakers some insurance, sending the Cats home with a loss to start Big Ten play for the second consecutive season.

“We’re a super, super young team that’s growing, and where we are now versus game one, we’re a better team,” Collins said. “Guys are getting confidence and guys are getting experience. But now we have to learn how to win. Sometimes with young guys that’s the final piece that comes. The only way you can learn is by being in these games.”

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