There was a moment in the second half of Northwestern’s 70-68 loss to Butler when a Vic Law three-pointer put the ‘Cats up six. Playing against a team with Final Four banners hanging in the rafters, the Wildcats doing more just holding their own.
Putting a scare into Butler might have been enough for Northwestern in previous years, but that’s what makes Wednesday night’s game so disappointing. For 40 minutes at Hinkle Fieldhouse, the Wildcats had a chance to claim a season-defining victory.
"I'm tired of moral victories," redshirt sophomore Vic Law said. "This isn't the Northwestern that you guys are accustomed to writing up about, with their close [loss] or whatever. We wanted to win."
Northwestern got off to a hot start in the first half, but the game tightened up as Butler began to force the issue on defense. The ‘Cats ran their offense through junior Bryant McIntosh, as the Indiana native created shots off the dribble and found Vic Law for a big three to put Northwestern up 14-11 at the 9:00 minute mark.
One issue that plagued the Wildcats throughout the night was turnovers. NU coughed it up 16 times, and even when the ‘Cats retained possession, plays broke down thanks to Butler’s sustained defensive pressure.
"That's not really characteristic of us. If you look at us the last couple years, one of our strengths is taking care of the ball," Collins said. "In a two-point game, those are big plays."
But it was Northwestern’s three point-shooting that bailed them out, something the team didn’t always bring to the gym last season. Redshirt sophomore Vic Law scored 17 points, including five from beyond the arc, as the visitors led for most of the way in the early going.
During their last trip to Hinkle Fieldhouse in 2014, a nine-point loss to an NCAA tournament-bound Butler team, the ‘Cats only hit three from beyond the arc. They surpassed that mark by halftime, as Law and freshman Isiah Brown continued to showcase their growing outside touch. Northwestern led 32-29 as both teams hit the locker room.
The Bulldogs woke up after halftime and surged to a four-point at the media timeout, with junior Kelan Martin leading the way. The junior from Louisville flashed his shooting ability and beat the ‘Cats from all over the floor. Even when Martin was out of the game, Northwestern struggled to close the gap.
But when the ‘Cats were cooking, it was fun to watch. In one late-game sequence, junior Gavin Skelly dished a beautiful pass to senior Sanjay Lumpkin under the rim for an easy two. Seconds after nailing a three-pointer, the Cleveland native passed up an open look to hit Vic Law in the short corner for an easy three.
"I always though when we recruited Gavin that, when he became an older player, he had a chance to be really effective," Collins said. "They made a conscious effort tonight to take McIntosh out of the game. When you have a guy like Gavin who can roll out and make a shot, it puts a lot of pressure on their defense."
Northwestern opened up their largest lead of the game at that point, a six-point advantage with less than ten minutes to go.
Butler wasted no time closing the gap, and Northwestern lead by just one heading into the final minute. After McIntosh got too fancy driving for the go-ahead basket, the Bulldogs took over with a chance to win in regulation. Freshman Kamar Baldwin got the switch he wanted onto Gavin Skelly, and nailed an elbow jumper to seal it for the Bulldogs.The ‘Cats drop to 2-1 with the loss and will head to Brooklyn next week for the Legends Classic and a matchup with the No. 23 Texas Longhorns.