It was another heartbreaker for Northwestern (12-17, 5-11 Big Ten) on Saturday, as the Wildcats fell 54-47 to the Nebraska Cornhuskers (17-11, 9-7 Big Ten) in Lincoln.
The 'Cats squandered an incredible performance from sophomore center Alex Olah, who poured in 20 points, grabbed seven rebounds, swatted four shots and even knocked a trio of three-pointers. Olah has shown off his range at times this season, but never with the same consistency as he did against the Huskers.
Unfortunately, Northwestern's top guns, senior swingman Drew Crawford and sophomore combo guard Tre Demps, combined to shoot just 7 for 28 from the field and a ghastly 3 for 16 from beyond the arc.
Demps was particularly ineffective, as he continues to adjust to his new role in the starting lineup. He notched 10 points, but missed eight three-pointers and generally demonstrated pretty poor shot selection. Crawford put in 11 points, including a huge three near the end of the game, and also grabbed six boards, but the stingy Nebraska defense largely kept the 'Cats' leading scorer in check.
Predictably, the rest of the Wildcats struggled as the team dropped to 0-2 since starting guard JerShon Cobb injured his right foot.
Northwestern's bench put up just three points and shot a combined 1 for 6 from the field, a huge reason the Wildcats’ losing streak has now stretched to six games.
It wasn't much better of a day offensively for Nebraska, who shot just 36.5 percent form the field and 23.5 percent from three, but their more balanced scoring attack was led by sophomore swingmen Shavon Shields (17 points) and Walter Pitchford (10 points). Leading scorer Terran Petteway actually struggled against the 'Cats' perimeter D. He came into the game averaging 18.2 points on 43.9 percent shooting but hit just 25 percent of his field goals en route to 10 points on the afternoon.
As usual, the size-strapped Wildcats were hammered on the glass. The Cornhuskers grabbed 40 rebounds, including 13 on the offensive end, compared to just 29 total and five offensive boards from Northwestern.
The 'Cats had a shot late, trailing by just four points with 75 seconds remaining, but a Sajnjay Lumpkin turnover gave Nebraska the ball back, and a Shavon Shields dunk sealed the deal.
Nebraska, winner of six of its last seven contests, continued its recent string of Big Ten success. The Huskers have built up a decent resume and have an outside host at an at-large tournament bid if they close out the year strong. The Nebraska faithful clearly sensed the importance of the game, as the crowd at Pinnacle Bank Arena was reportedly the largest in the venue's history for a basketball game.
The ‘Cats next take on Indiana in a matchup they must win to keep their NCAA dreams alive. Barring a miraculous Big Ten tournament run Northwestern's season is likely over, but Wildcat fans do have one huge reason to show up to watch NU take on Penn State: it will be Drew Crawford's final home game.