Jan. 22, 2014
NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski offers up a look back at the Northwestern men's basketball team's 63-60 double overtime win over Purdue Tuesday night.
Again the `Cats are performing full-bore, their defense going after Purdue as ardently as the Wolf of Wall Street went after money. But it has been a Sisyphean Tuesday night for them at Welsh-Ryan, a night when they have stayed close to the Boilermakers, have inched up on the Boilermakers, have even managed to tie the Boilermakers, but have never been able to get in front of the Boilermakers.
Their star, Drew Crawford, is shooting poorly. His prime accomplice, JerShon Cobb, is battling leg cramps. Their center, Alex Olah, is sitting after picking up his fifth foul with 2:45 left in regulation. His replacement, Nikola Cerina, is operating with four fouls of his own, and that is true too of their glue, Sanjay Lumpkin. Their offense, again, is struggling, on its way to shooting just 35.5 percent overall, just 16.7 percent on its threes.
Their microwave, Tre Demps, did warm up enough to zap the Boilermakers with four significant threes late in regulation. But at the end of the first overtime, with a chance to bring this evening to a close, his 18-footer hit the rim, bounded high, teetered atop the backboard, fell and found rim again before bounding harmlessly away. "As a kid, when you're shooting in your backyard, that's the shot you dream of taking," he will later say. "I know that my teammates believe in me and I have confidence I can take that shot. I've always dreamed of that. But it didn't go in."
"We went to him and Drew pretty much every possession in the overtimes," Chris Collins
will add. "He's one of our money guys. Really, he and Drew and JerShon. But JerShon was cramping up. So it was tough. Those are the only guys we have who can create and when you get down to the end of a game, or an overtime, or a double overtime, that's the time when good players just have to make plays. At that time, there's not as much execution in terms of running plays. It's about good players making plays, making winning plays."
So now, with the score tied at 51, here comes the second overtime, and it opens with the 6-foot-9 Cerina stealing the tip from 7-foot Boilermaker center A.J. Hammons. That is how he gets the ball to Lumpkin deep in the backcourt and eventually it finds its way to Crawford, who's a step inside the three-point line on the right elbow. "We stuck with him," Collins will later say of is star. "He didn't have it going. He was struggling from the field. But I just told him, `You're our guy. We're going to keep going to you. Keep taking every shot as if it's your first.'"
"I had a terrible shooting night," Crawford himself will say. "But the biggest thing for me was that Tre, Niko, my entire team, my entire coaching staff continued to say, `Drew, keep shooting the ball. We need you to keep shooting the ball.' That's what really gave me the strength down the stretch. They constantly had my back, and when you know you're in a fight together as an entire team, that really helps you."
But now it is his time to help his team and, good player that he is, he makes a play, dropping his jumper off a Demps' assist. Then there is Cerina banging with Hammons down on the blocks, banging with him far away from the ball, and the whistle blows and Cerina's hit with his fifth and Hammons makes both his free throws and this one's tied again at 53. "He's a mountain of a man," Collins will later say of him. "We were obviously having trouble guarding him."
Here the `Cats huddle to consider who will guard him as Cerina's replacement and now up pops Cobb. "He couldn't feel his leg he was cramping so bad," Collins will say. "But we had no other options. He said, `I'm going back in there' and he gutted it out." Yet he will not go out and guard Hammons. That job will fall to the 6-foot-6 Lumpkin. "I just told Sanjay to try and use his quickness against him, try to frustrate him, try to make it hard for them to get it into him," Collins will say. "Then I thought Hammons having to guard him created some good things for us."
That happens immediately as Demps penetrates, reconsiders, retreats and feeds Lumpkin, who immediately attacks and blows by Hammons for a layup. Now comes a Boilermaker miss, a Boilermaker rebound, another Boilermaker miss and a scrum, Lumpkin finally emerging from it with possession of the ball. "Sanjay's our heart and soul," Collins will say. "You might look at the stat sheet, he had what, two baskets. But the kid just plays so hard, and he gets loose balls, and he takes charges, and he guards every position on the floor. He's our toughness. He really is."
But Crawford too is tough, which he proves now by dropping a jumper to put the `Cats up four, and then here is Boilermaker Kendall Stephens delivering an entry pass to Hammons. It never gets there. It is instead picked by Lumpkin, who jumps the play, and at 1:13 he is at the foul line, where he calmly drops a pair to stretch the `Cat lead to a half-dozen. Now come two Boilermaker free throws, two free throws by Demps, a Boilermaker three, a Lumpkin turnover, and two Boilermaker free throws after Lumpkin's fifth that cut the `Cats lead to one with 16.7 seconds remaining.
Nathan Taphorn is in the game. The true freshman, who has not played a tick all evening, is now in the game and under the Boilermaker basket and looking for a `Cat open enough to receive the inbounds pass. He is under duress, the Boilermakers are pressing now, but he doesn't panic and finally finds Crawford, who collects the pass and returns it to Taphorn, who pushes it ahead to Demps, who is quickly fouled at 10.8. "He had to make the most-important pass of the game," Collins will later say of his rookie. "He had to inbound the ball in a one-point game as a freshman in double overtime when he'd been sitting for two-and-a-half hours, and he did his job."
Now Demps does his job, dropping both his free throws to make the `Cats six-for-six from the line in this second overtime. But still it is a one-possession game, the Boilermakers can tie it with a three, and now here their guard Ronnie Johnson is offering one up from just in front of his team's bench. Demps was on him when this play began. But the `Cats were switching on all screens and Demps has done just that and here he is the responsibility of Crawford, who is steps removed from him. "I was running as fast as I could to try to get out to him shooting that three," he will later remember. "In those seconds I was saying, `Get your ass out to the three-point line.'"
He does and, quicker than a heartbeat, he blocks the shot, and the buzzer sounds, and the `Cats have a win, and he grabs the ball and tucks in under his left arm and pounds out a two-handed dribble before Cerina wallops him with a chest bump and Olah gives him a celebratory shove. "It was an unbelievable feeling because it really was a fight tonight," Crawford will later say of that moment. "It was a grind-it-out game. It was tough. It wasn't pretty at times. But all that didn't matter. The buzzer went off and we were victorious. That's what we're really thankful for. We did it together."
"We just hung in there," Collins will finally say, and then he chuckles softly. "We just hung in there. I don't know how better to describe it. When I first started, my main goal this year was to make us a scrappy, hard-nosed, blue-collar team that fights. We do that. We've now done it for four straight games and that's not going to change. We may not win (every game). But I promise these guys are going to fight, and I'm really proud to be their coach."
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