Men’s Basketball: The Wildcats’ offense goes uncommonly cold in backend of second-half loss to Michigan


Angeli Mittal/Daily Senior Staffer

Senior guard Boo Buie and coach Chris Collins discussing the game plan. Buie led the team in points with 22, but also in turnovers with six in the loss to Michigan Sunday, 85-78.

Lawrence Price, Senior Staffer

After Northwestern’s loss in heartbreaking fashion to Rutgers last week, one can only wonder what the final result would have been if the Wildcats didn’t get off to such a lackluster offensive start in the first half. More importantly, though, it shined a light on the impact players outside the top scorers, like senior guard Boo Buie and redshirt guard Chase Audige, have on NU’s overall success.

This was the case again in the Cats’ trip to Ann Arbor on Sunday to face Michigan, as nothing seemed to go in their favor early on. While NU was cold out of the gate from the field, the Wolverines were on fire, resulting in a lead as high as 12 five minutes into the contest. This run came in the midst of junior seven-foot center Matthew Nicholson picking up his second foul around the 15-minute mark, forcing him to the bench for the rest of the first half and making it more difficult for Cats to defend Michigan’s leading scorer, seven-footer Hunter Dickinson.

Even with these setbacks, Cats on offense helped NU chip away at the Wolverines’ lead, resulting in their own lead by the end of the first half. Yet, the Cats couldn’t continue their upward trend in the second half while Michigan could, dropping the contest 85-78.

“We put ourselves in a position on the road to get one, which isn’t easy,” coach Chris Collins said. “There’s a lot of things that we can get better at, but you know, sometimes the other team just plays a little bit better than you do.”

Much of NU’s struggles in the first half originated from miscommunication on defense, and sloppy play overall. 

Of course, Michigan’s playmaking advantage of cross-court passes and unique vision meshed with their height opened up doors for them shooting-wise. This meant 7’ 1” Dickinson or 6′ 8” Jett Howard could fire passes from one corner to another, and find teammates like guard Dug McDaniel, who had 10 points in the first half, for an open shot. Although the Cats have continually proven to be a good close-out team throughout the season, the Wolverines gave NU fits early on.

“We got to recommit ourselves to playing better defense,” Collins said. “It’s hard during the season, because there’s so many games and such a short window everybody’s playing two or three games a week, and so your practice time becomes more limited.”

In addition to their slow start, NU struggled to take care of the rock. The Cats turned the ball over five times in the first 20 minutes, four coming from Buie. Turnovers are always problematic, but this is even more critical when it comes from the lead guard, floor general and team leader in assists. 

NU was able to clean up these hiccups midway through the first half, though, not turning the ball over for nearly the last 11 minutes, and multiple players stepping up. This included senior forward Robbie Beran, and sophomore guards Julian Roper II and Brooks Barnhizer.

With Audige and Buie knocking down only four out of 13 shots, junior guard Ty Berry’s zero points and Nicholson’s absence, the trio carried the load. After Buie’s two free throws that pushed Michigan’s lead down to 10 points nearing the 10-minute mark, Beran and Barnhizer combined for the Cats’ next nine points. And with the help of Audige’s two threes and a Roper II stepback, Beran’s next two buckets gave them the lead. The senior had 12 of his 16 points in the first half.

“I’m just proud of our energy and toughness,” Collins said. “For us to then get the lead at the half, I think it showed a lot about who our group is, and who we’ve been all year.

After their comeback performance, the Cats jogged into their locker room with a two-point lead. With the absence of production from the majority of NU’s rotation, it was easy to believe that if that group finds its groove in the second half, the game is the purple and white’s to lose. 

However, with both squads going blow-for-blow for the first 10 minutes of the second half, where neither team’s lead extended past four points, the Cats’ offense blew a fuse and wasn’t able to recover for the rest of the contest. This included a 10-0 run for the Wolverines down the stretch — a near nail in the coffin for NU. The only points the Cats could scrummage up were layups or free throws — no midrange jumpers or three pointers. 

Against both Illinois and Rutgers, NU’s ability to kick their offense into high gear late into the contest proved to be a secret weapon and problematic for defenses. However, without it against Michigan, a group that was hot from the field at the time as well, and no early lead like they had against No. 15 Indiana, the Cats were doomed. Hopefully, with conference play ongoing, this won’t be a reoccurring issue. 

“We got a little bit worn down in the second half,” Collins said. “Michigan made more plays than us, they made more shots, and they did the things that were worthy of winning today.”

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