Feb. 9, 2014
NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski offers up a look back at the Northwestern men's basketball team's contest with Nebraska on Saturday at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
The `Cats are down eight and the clock is under six minutes and now the ball is in the hands of their star, the inestimable Drew Crawford. He has struggled mightily this Saturday afternoon at Welsh-Ryan, where Nebraska has attended him as avidly as a doting mother attends her little child. "We just felt we couldn't give Drew or Tre Demps any clean looks," Husker coach Tim Miles will later explain. "So every time those guys were going to get something, we we going to run guys at them and take the risk of the other guys making open shots. Because there's no doubt, when you watch game after game, those two guys will take over."
"They double-teamed Drew a lot on all of his drives. They were running a second (and sometimes a third) guy at him," Chris Collins will soon echo. "This team (the Huskers) played the other night and they did the same thing to (Michigan's Nik) Stauskas and Michigan's guys made shots. I knew coming into this game they were going to do something similar to Drew and we were going to have to loosen that up with some guys making shots. I thought he made some really good kicks (out of the double teams). I thought we got some good looks."
That was especially true at the start of the second half, which the `Cats opened up six even though Crawford was still without a field goal. On their first possession he found Sanjay Lumpkin alone in the right corner, but Lumpkin missed a three. On their second possession he did the same, but again Lumpkin missed a three. JerShon Cobb did drop a three on their next possession, but on their fourth Crawford kicked to an open Kale Abrahamson in the right corner and he too found only iron. "We don't have the firepower to run away from teams, so we're going to play close games," Collins will later say.
"That's why we have to take care of the ball. That's why we have to get good shots. That's why, when we get fouled, we have to make free throws. If we get a layup, we have to make it. And when we get our open shots, you're not going to make them all. But we have to make our fair share."
They would not make their fair share on this afternoon, they instead would shoot just 37 percent from the field, and that allowed the Cornhuskers to erase their halftime deficit and to take the eight-point lead they now enjoy. Crawford, since the break, has twice managed to split double teams for a pair of layups, but as he holds the ball now in front of his team's bench, he has still not hit an outside jumper. No matter. He here does what the great ones do, he just buries a contested three, and suddenly the `Cats are down just five and Welsh-Ryan is rocking.
Now Lumpkin tips the ball away from Nebraska forward Shavon Shields, and the pair pursues it like a pair of linebackers going after a fumble, and out-of-bounds it goes off the Husker. Then it is back in Crawford's hands, who himself is back in front of his team's bench, and here he rises with Shields in his grill and drops his second three in 29 seconds. "He just stood there and J'd us up twice," Miles will later marvel. "Then I'm starting to think about running two at him when he catches it at 25 feet. But they talked me out of it in a hurry on the sidelines. It's good to have level heads somewhere."
But here, with the `Cats down only two, there are no level heads in the stands, which are a virtually a-riot. "It was awesome. It was loud, man," Collins will say, and now it gets only louder as Husker star Terran Petteway misses a three and Demps--off a pass from Cobb--blows by Petteway for an underhanded eight-footer that ties this one up at 44 with 3:52 remaining.
The `Cats are rolling now, are rolling still as Petteway misses a jumper over Alex Olah, and then they are pushing it and the ball is in Demps` hands and he pulls up at the foul line and offers a jumper that will give his team the lead. "I'll live with him taking that every day of the week. Those are the shots he's been making," Collins will later say. But here he does not make it and, in the melee for the rebound, Olah fouls Husker center Walter Pitchford, who makes a pair to put his team up two.
"I thought that settled Nebraska down," Collins will later say. "He made those two free throws, they got the lead back. I thought that was a big play."
The Husker lead is still two as the clock ticks below 2:30 and now the ball belongs to their center, the 6-foot-10 Pitchford. "Walt is a pick-and-pop five. That's what he does best," Miles will explain.
"It's a tough matchup for Olah," Collins will add. "He's out on the court (guarding Pitchford) and he's got to help (down low) because Petteway's so good off the dribble. So he's got to help a little bit (low) and to recover back (high) to a really good shooter, it's tough for him. But give Pitchford credit. He made some big shots."
He makes one now, dropping his third three of the day to push the Huskers up five at 2:25, but 33 seconds later Cobb cuts it to three with a pair of free throws. So again the `Cats are on the prowl and here is Lumpkin, their glue guy, their minister of defense, challenging Petteway's drive and forcing Petteway to miss a five-footer from the right side. Crawford grabs this rebound and then--with 1:10 on the game clock and 16 on the shot clock--Collins calls a time out, huddles with his team and draws up a play.
Its primary option will be Demps in the left corner, where the `Cats hope to free him up with a screen for the three to tie it. Its triggerman will be Cobb, whose job is to penetrate and kick. But, Collins will say, "They did a good job of getting in his way. He had to come out."
"They switched. When I drove, they switched to the back screen for Tre in the corner," says Cobb. "Then when I spun out, they switched to Drew."
Still, with the shot clock racing toward zero, he gets the ball to Crawford, who offers up a three over Petteway with just four seconds left on it. "I took a tough shot," he will say. "Going back, I should have taken it to the basket instead of settling for the three. I maybe would have gotten myself to the free throw line. Going back, I probably would have gone to the basket."
But he can't go back, and his shot-to-tie misses, and Nebraska rebounds the ball and milks the clock, and at 23.3 Petteway drops a three to put the Huskers up six. "Those two threes were just daggers," Collins will later say of this one and that of Pitchford. "They hit a couple big shots down the stretch and we didn't.
"We had been making those shots the last few games. Today, we got the game tied and they hit incredible shots at the end of the shot clock. Sometimes guys do that. That was the difference."
They had defeated Illinois by six and Indiana by seven, Purdue by three and Wisconsin by nine and Minnesota by one by hitting big shots down the stretch. But this day, on this afternoon at Welsh-Ryan, they did not, and so fell by four. "Are we disappointed? Absolutely. Are we defeated? No," Collins would finally say after the loss, his tone as firm as his team's will.
"We're going to keep fighting. I think you see with these guys, we're going to keep fighting. We're going to play hard every night. That's not going to change."
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