Men’s Basketball: Northwestern fumbles a late lead, loses 66-62 to Indiana

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Daily file photo by Doreen Du

Miller Kopp takes a shot. The sophomore guard finished with 12 points on Wednesday.

Charlie Goldsmith, Sports Editor


Men’s Basketball


BLOOMINGTON –– Northwestern was in a familiar place, but this time it was 13,751 against 8.

The Wildcats were in another close game –– their fifth straight –– but this time they were playing short-handed in front of a crowd almost twice as large as a sold out Welsh-Ryan Arena.

The result was also quite familiar. Despite being ahead for most of the second half, NU (5-9, 0-4 Big Ten) coughed up a late lead late again and lost 66-62 at Indiana (12-3, 2-2).

“We have to be tougher in the last five minutes,” head coach Chris Collins said. “We were up late against DePaul. We were up late against Hartford. We were up late here. There’s been other games as well. We’ve got to close the deal, and that was my message to the guys.”

With just eight active scholarship players and the shortest bench in the conference, the Cats entered Wednesday’s game as the only Big Ten team winless in conference play. NU looked like it could reverse that trend against the Hoosiers, building a double digit lead in the second half.

The Cats held Indiana without a field goal for the last seven minutes of the first half, and grad transfer guard Pat Spencer took control of the offense after the break to give the Cats a 10 point lead with ten minutes left in the game.

But then NU didn’t respond when adversity hit. The Cats scored just 12 points and turned the ball over six times in the final ten minutes, giving the Hoosiers a chance in the last few minutes. Indiana freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis had 10 second half points and led the team to even the score with 4:28 remaining.

The game came down to the last few possessions, but NU couldn’t score when it mattered. With the game tied and 2:09 remaining, sophomore forward Miller Kopp settled for an off-balanced, one-legged midrange jumper that missed. The Hoosiers extended their lead to four points with ten seconds remaining in the game, and the Cats had a chance to tie the score after calling a timeout.

Collins said he was expecting the Hoosiers to focus on defending Kopp, so he had sophomore forward Pete Nance –– who played less than six minutes in the second half and hadn’t made a field goal since early in the second half –– take the final shot. Nance was left wide open to take a three from the right wing, and the shot bounced off the back rim and sealed the win for Indiana.

“They were keyed on me on that possession,” Kopp said. “They know I’m a shooter, and on that play they were pointing me out because we were down by three and they were expecting a shot for me. But we know (Nance) and trust he can knock down that shot.”

NU’s late game offense struggled without its most proven performer in the clutch, freshman guard Boo Buie. Buie was the catalyst for late comebacks against Michigan State and DePaul, but he missed Wednesday’s game and will be out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his left foot. Spencer picked up some of the slack, finishing with 15 points and leading the team in scoring for the second consecutive game. But Spencer had no points and two turnovers in the final eight minutes.

Nance finished with just 3 points on 1-9 shooting, and Miller Kopp had 12 points, with most of them coming in the first half. The two sophomore forwards were outshined by Jackson-Davis, who had a game-high 21 points.

With just two days off before another Big Ten game against Nebraska at home Saturday, Collins said the team has a lot of areas to improve upon for the team to be able to finish games like this in the future.

“The effort was worthy of winning,” Collins said. “It’s got to hurt us and sting that we’re not closing out wins. We’re going to keep fighting, and you’re going to see that they want to win.”

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