Men’s Basketball: Second half freefall dooms Northwestern for a second consecutive game, results in loss to Michigan 68-51


Gabe Bider/Daily Senior Staffer

Senior guard Boo Buie dribbles baseline against Michigan center Hunter Dickinson. Buie had 23 points and eight assists in Northwestern’s 68-51 loss to the Wolverines on Thursday.

Alex Cervantes, Senior Staffer

In its second game in less than 48 hours, Northwestern fell victim to another second-half nosedive en route to a 68-51 defeat against Michigan.

“We scored the first four points of the second half, and then it just kind of went downhill,” coach Chris Collins said. “We made a lot of mental mistakes tonight. We were ready to play, we were excited — that’s not an excuse. But we really haven’t had practice in two weeks.”

Coming on the heels of a 16-point loss to Iowa on Tuesday, the Wildcats (15-7, 6-5 Big Ten) returned to Welsh-Ryan Arena to host the Wolverines (12-10, 6-5 Big Ten).

Nearly three weeks ago, the two squads combined for 163 points, 56 made field goals and eight double-digit scorers. Thursday’s clash saw a complete shift offensively, especially from the Cats, with both teams struggling to muster anything in the way of scoring through 20 minutes of hoops.

NU and Michigan mirrored each other from beyond the arc, nailing just 3-of-13 attempts from distance. Though the Wolverines dominated the glass, nabbing 11 offensive boards, they managed just four second-chance points. For the Cats, only senior guard Boo Buie hit more than two shots and redshirt senior guard Chase Audige couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn — he went into halftime with two points on 0-of-9 from the field.

The offensive woes could have spiraled beyond control if not for the Wolverines’ similar struggles, and NU was lucky to only be down only a point at the intermission.

“I didn’t think we played very well in the first half and we were only down one,” Collins said. “So we were trying to be positive there about, ‘Hey, let’s get ourselves back on track, play a little better here in the second half and you can maybe find a way to dig this one out.’”

Out of halftime, the Cats ripped off a 4-0 run. Collins ran a set to get Audige a shot at the elbow, which he canned. The score was quickly followed up by a steal from the New York native and a layup from junior guard Ty Berry. Another packed Welsh-Ryan student section erupted in a frenzy.

But Collins’ bunch fell flat. Propelled by wing Joey Baker, Michigan tore off an 18-2 run over the next six minutes to virtually put the game to bed. Wolverines coach Juwan Howard said that his team’s mindset was what fueled the second half run. The same couldn’t be said for NU.

The ball continued to stay stuck in the hands of Buie and Audige offensively. The pair attempted 35 of the Cats’ 56 shots, totaling just 33 points of which Buie had a game-high 23.

While Audige couldn’t get his shot to fall, Buie wasn’t happy with his play, despite adding eight assists to his point total.

“Teams are really trying to key in on Chase and I,” Buie said. “So when I get in the paint, I’m just trying to jump stop and find guys. Actually, I think I did a bad job tonight of getting to two feet, and (I) had some silly turnovers. I could have done a better job leading overall.”

Amid a six-game, 13-day stretch onset by a mid-January COVID-19 pause, the Cats’ short rotation — especially in the backcourt — seemed to have been affected by fatigue.

Collins said that teams can encounter “game slippage” amid stretches like this, one where NU is forced to play multiple games in a small window.

The end results are clear: poor half-court decision making from Collins’ lead guards, an absence of the usual lift on jump shots and the mere second-half collapse itself. The Cats’ demise was seen in the late stages against the Hawkeyes and it reared its ugly head against the Wolverines once more.

On the bright side, the demanding sequence of games comes to a close Sunday against Wisconsin (13-8, 5-6 Big Ten). Still firmly planted in the grind of the Big Ten conference slate, Collins and company can take some solace in the fact that another game awaits them.

“We ain’t really thinking about playing X amount of games in a certain amount of days,” Buie said. “We’re just kind of coming in with the mentality of ‘we have an opportunity in front of us.’ Each opportunity is significant, and we’ve got to make the most of that opportunity.”

Now, it’s back to the drawing board in hopes of correcting some of the issues which have plagued the Cats this week.

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Twitter: @CervantesPAlex

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