‘An avalanche of poor shooting’: Northwestern’s offense struggles mightily against Ohio State in 16-point loss


Daily file photo by Katie Chen

Sophomore guard Julian Roper II. Roper tallied six points and one steal in Northwestern’s 73-57 loss to Ohio State.

Alex Cervantes, Senior Staffer

Something had to give when one of the nation’s top offenses took the court against one of the best defenses on Sunday at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

But when the buzzer sounded, it was Northwestern’s cataclysmic first half shooting performance that ultimately precipitated its 16-point loss to Ohio State. The old adage that “the best defense is a good offense” rang true as the Wildcats’ (10-3, 1-1 Big Ten) offensive struggles in their inaugural 2023 contest stalled the squad on both ends of the floor.

“It was kind of an avalanche of poor shooting and scoring,” coach Chris Collins said. 

That it was. NU missed its first six shot attempts before senior guard Boo Buie hit a transition three-pointer. The Cats went almost four more minutes before Buie buried another triple. The pair of buckets from the New York native were NU’s only points at the under-12 timeout.

As the Cats’ offense torpedoed, the defense subsequently flatlined. Memories of former Buckeye E.J. Liddell’s 17-point burst in the opening of last year’s game came flooding back. Would another early deficit prove insurmountable for the second year in a row? 

Those fears were realized as the scarlet and gray’s lead grew with each passing minute. An 18-6 deficit at the under-12 timeout was stretched to 24-8 just four minutes later. At the next media break, Ohio State boasted a 34-10 advantage. The Cats simply could not secure a bucket while the Buckeyes were picking apart a stout NU defense with relative ease.

“Our offensive struggles really started to affect our defense, which is a human nature thing,” Collins said of the first half. “It’s just going to be impossible to win in the Big Ten if you shoot like that and can’t find the offense when you play against high power teams because it is going to affect your defense.”

Despite the scoring run fueled by sophomore guard Brooks Barnhizer to close the half, the Cats headed into the intermission trailing the visitors 35-17. 

NU shot 7-of-33 from the field, 3-of-14 from beyond in the arc and missed all four free throw attempts in the opening frame. Only three Cats — Buie, redshirt senior guard Chase Audige and junior guard Ty Berry — scored.

Still, Collins, Audige and Berry all said the team got quality looks offensively. But by the time the ball eventually went through the nylon, it was too little, too late. Of NU’s 31 attempts from distance — of which the Cats made nine — Collins said he thinks “at least 25 of them were open.” 

“We had shots around the basket, we had open threes, and it just wasn’t falling,” Audige said. “They came out and hit us in the mouth a little bit, and we responded later in the half, but we didn’t do a good job responding right when it happened.”

Those shots finally started dropping after nearly 32 minutes had whittled away. A layup and two free throws from Barnhizer ignited a 27-17 run in favor of NU over the final 8:09. 

Amid the stretch, Audige canned his first triple of the night — his seventh attempt at that point — and fist pumped while running back down the floor. 

Such a scene was emblematic of the game itself. Up until that point, it had been a night of collective crowd groans coinciding with frustrated screams of players who just needed to see the ball go through the rim. A roar of applause rang through the arena when his shot fell through. 

The late push didn’t move the needle much in the context of the game, though. Ohio State, aided by the first half explosion, cruised to a 73-57 win.

Now, the Cats will turn the page ahead of a rivalry clash with Illinois on Wednesday. Despite the countless missed shots Sunday night, Collins and his players remain confident in the offensive sets, but improvements can be made and lessons can be learned from the loss.

“It’s hard to play from behind when you put yourself in a hole like that,” Berry said. “The next game we’ve got to try to come out and be the more physical, aggressive team and knock down shots early.”

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Twitter: @CervantesPAlex 

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