Men’s Basketball: How Pat Spencer found a cold shooting stretch in December

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Daily file photo by Doreen Du

Pat Spencer fumbles the ball. The graduate guard has struggled in December.

Charlie Goldsmith, Reporter


Men’s Basketball


After winning the starting point guard job and proving himself to be a dynamic scorer throughout November, Pat Spencer has finally hit the rookie wall.

After the grad transfer established himself as one of the focal points of Northwestern’s offense over the first six games, he’s been silenced since the calendar flipped to December, scoring just six points in a road win last week against Boston College and getting shutout in Sunday’s loss to Purdue.

The Wildcats’ (4-4, 0-1 Big Ten) tuneup against SIU-Edwardsville (2-7) at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Sunday gives Spencer a chance to regain his rhythm before Wednesday’s big matchup against No. 16 Michigan State.

“(Spencer) is more talented than I even knew coming in,” Collins said. “Now that he’s getting in it and now that the other teams are trying to focus to stop him, it’s going to be about the adjustments he makes in terms of learning what people are doing about him.”

Before his cold stretch, Spencer got used to having enough space to have several options running the pick and roll. When the center tried to guard the former lacrosse player on the perimeter, he’d blow past him like an attacker and put up a tear-drop floater. When the center would drop back, Spencer made them pay by taking 25-foot threes.

He averaged 20.5 points in two games at the Fort Myers Tip-Off, and he did most of his damage in the pick and roll.

“The way they were playing it, they were giving us a little bit of freedom on the pick and rolls,” Spencer said. “They were hanging back, so that allowed me to play more iso within that game.”

In the Fort Myers Tip-Off Championship on Nov. 27, Pittsburgh was the first team to recognize that it should force the ball out of Spencer’s hands as much as possible. The Panthers made a halftime adjustment that Spencer hadn’t seen since high school –– they double teamed him.

After scoring ten points in the first 20 minutes, Spencer was held scoreless for most of the second half. Both opponents the Cats have faced since that game took notice.

Boston College packed the paint in NU’s next game, sending multiple defenders at Spencer whenever he tried to drive the lane. Purdue took it a step further by ignoring the Cats’ post players altogether when Spencer attacked the rim.

That defense freed up sophomore forward Pete Nance to make two wide open three-point shots, but it also allowed Boilermakers center Matt Haarms to block Spencer’s shot twice and contest several others.

Without any production from its starting point guard, the Cats had a disappointing showing in their Big Ten opener, scoring just 44 points. As Spencer struggles more than he ever did wearing a lacrosse jersey, he says he’s been tough on himself.

“I just couldn’t get out of my own head,” Spencer said. “I couldn’t get out of my own way.”

While Spencer has struggled adjusting to the extra attention, freshman guard Boo Buie has taken a step forward. In the games before teams starting denying Spencer on the pick-and-roll, Buie averaged 3.2 points a game. Ever since defenses started guarding Spencer differently, Buie has thrived, averaging about 14 points per game.

SIU-Edwardsville shouldn’t be a difficult test for NU, as the Cougars have an offense and a defense that rank in the bottom-50 in the NCAA. SIU-Edwardsville allows one of the highest field goal percentages in the country, so Spencer will likely get an uptick of open shots and a chance to figure out how to get his groove back.

“You have to have trust in your teammates in their ability to make plays when you’re taken out of the game,” Spencer said. “We have plenty of capable scorers to show that it’s not going to be heavily reliant on me every night. We have enough pieces to be able to make this thing work.”

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