It may only be November, but Northwestern’s performance Monday night against No. 22 Texas is giving ‘Cats fans a taste of what could be an exciting few months of basketball. The Wildcats (3-1) trounced the Longhorns (3-1) 77-58 in the Legends Classic tournament and will face off against Notre Dame Tuesday night in the championship game.
After a last-second loss to Butler last week, Northwestern was looking for another game that could serve as a résumé builder early on, and a matchup against a Top 25 team was the perfect opportunity. The ‘Cats went on an early 11-0 run and were able to keep outscoring the Longhorns throughout. The one time Texas pulled ahead, with only four minutes left in the first half, it was only by a point. A jumper from junior Scottie Lindsey seconds later put the Wildcats up 27-26, and Northwestern remained dominant for the rest of the first half, taking a 34-26 lead to the locker room.
A 10-0 NU run kept the momentum going early in the second half. The ‘Cats led by up to 20 points and back-to-back threes from freshman Isiah Brown sealed the deal in the final minutes.
“We had three days to prepare for Texas [and] we knew they were going to be going into the bigs,” Lindsey said. “We knew they were an athletic team, a driving team … we made sure we got back, we made sure we were plugging. We really played great defense. That’s why we won.”
Throughout the game, Northwestern forced 14 Texas turnovers, had four blocks and racked up 30 defensive rebounds. They held the Longhorns to 19-of-51 on field goal shots and 7-of-21 on threes. Yes, the defense was strong, but offensive firepower widened the gap and pushed the Wildcats forward.
The versatility of lineups head coach Chris Collins discussed in the pre-season was utilized, and the way the offense was able to move the ball to every corner of the court shook up the Texas defense. Every player who saw minutes got points on the board, and new players are getting more comfortable fitting in. Brown was able to contribute 10 points and a rebound and Barret Benson, also a freshman, got a bucket and rebound in the post in the two minutes he was on court.
Junior point guard Bryant McIntosh is proving to be the glue that holds the Wildcat offense together, but was on fire individually tonight, too. He led the team with 20 points and five assists, and was 4-of-4 from the free throw line.
McIntosh’s passes to sophomore Dererk Pardon set up a number of solid layup opportunities, and Texas couldn’t keep up with Lindsey’s six buckets. including three three-pointers. Redshirt sophomore Vic Law was 11-of-14 from behind the arc headed into the game, but again had to sit out extended time due to foul trouble. This was the team’s second game with 24 or more personal fouls, so Collins will likely look for ways to avoid letting teams enter the double bonus so early.
Notre Dame is 4-0 to start the year and hungry to stay undefeated, but if the ‘Cats are able to move the ball like they did against Texas, they could be coming back to Evanston with the Legends Classic trophy. A tournament win like this would be a great start towards a successful regular season, but Northwestern still has time to develop its offense and work out any kinks before Big Ten conference play starts.
“We didn’t come here for this first game,” McIntosh said. “It was a great first test, but we came here with a mindset that we were gonna win a championship, and we’re one win away. We’re happy, we were fine taking the underdog role. I’m happy we came out and played and proved everybody wrong. We’re a quality team who can beat anybody on any given night. I’m really happy for our guys and excited for this next test.”