In an emotional, exciting final game at Welsh-Ryan Arena, Northwestern (21-10, 10-8 B1G) fell 69-65 to regular season Big Ten champion No. 16 Purdue (24-7, 14-4 B1G). The ‘Cats hung with Purdue from start to finish, and they had the shot to tie it at the end when forward Nate Taphorn airballed a three with 15 seconds left, missing the chance to further cement his status as a Northwestern hero.
Despite the loss, Northwestern played like the tournament team that they (almost definitely) are: They led for more than a third of the game (against a team who beat them by 21 a month ago), and they never let up even when Purdue led by nine with seven minutes left. A 9-1 run by the ‘Cats, highlighted by an impressive putback by forward Sanjay Lumpkin and one of BMac’s many “how did you do that” layups, brought the score to 60-59, but Purdue’s free throw shooting (7-for-8 down the stretch) sealed the victory.
Once again, McIntosh was Northwestern’s offensive catalyst with 25 points on 10-for-17 shooting and 6 assists. He made his stamp on both the history and the highlight reel today, setting the school record for assists and making a number of highlight reel floaters and layups.
Other than McIntosh, Northwestern lacked its usual offensive threats. Law and guard Scottie Lindsey, two of the ‘Cats’ top three scorers, combined to shoot 5-24 for just 12 points, and each missed a number of three-pointers down the stretch that could have been difference makers. Sanjay Lumpkin and Dererk Pardon stepped up to some extent with 13 and 11 points respectively, but it wasn’t enough to take on the offensive burden that Law and Lindsey usually carry.
“I know they’ll produce; they’ve produced most of the year,” coach Chris Collins said of Lindsey and Law. Despite his struggles, Lindsey did produce the highlight play of the night with a block and dunk on the other end that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
“That’s kind of what you dream of,” McIntosh said. “That’s the best atmosphere I’ve ever played in, and I come from a great background of Indiana basketball. It was a special night.”
For Purdue, Big Ten (and potentially national) player of the year Caleb Swanigan put up 20 points and 14 rebounds – his significant size advantage over Pardon and Lumpkin allowed him to score a number of post-ups and putbacks in addition to getting to the foul line twice down the stretch. In addition, forward Vincent Edwards led the team with 25 points, scoring several open layups when Northwestern was forced to double team Swanigan in the post.
Purdue’s size advantage was notable: Swanigan is listed at 6’9" and 250 pounds, and center Isaac Haas is listed at 7’2" and 290 pounds. Despite this, NU kept the post game close, scoring 32 points in the paint to Purdue’s 36.
For Lumpkin and Taphorn, tonight was more than just Welsh-Ryan’s final game: It was their last regular season game in a Northwestern uniform. Each were escorted out by their parents and subject to huge ovations from the crowd at the start of the game.
“I’ve been here since 2012. I’ve been here since before Coach Collins. I feel like I’ve really grown up over the last four years,” an emotional Lumpkin said in the press conference.
From here, Northwestern looks to the Big Ten Tournament, where they’ll be the six seed, but they don’t know who they will play just yet.
“It’s gonna be a fun stretch coming up; it’s a new start,” McIntosh said. “We start at 0-0 with a great opportunity on Thursday night and a chance to play even later than that.”
Although the B1G Tournament is next, all eyes are wandering to the tournament that comes after. With their spot in March Madness all but cemented, players, fans and commentators alike are gearing up for the ‘Cats’ first appearance in the Big Dance.
“Every game from now on is win or go home, and we’ve got the opportunity to play for a championship twice,” Lumpkin said.