Northwestern has fallen back to Earth.
After posting an impressive 13-1 record to begin the season, the Wildcats’ best start since 1930-31, No. 4 Maryland thumped Northwestern 72-59 on Saturday night.
“[It was] obviously disappointing to lose, but I tip my hat to Maryland, they were really good tonight,” Coach Chris Collins said. “Best I’ve seen them defensively all year, they did a great job with their length and athleticism forcing us into things we didn’t want to do.”
For all the optimism surrounding Northwestern’s hot start, this game was a reminder that expectations should be tempered for a team that is still looking for its first NCAA Tournament berth. Yes, Northwestern is a capable basketball team and has its best shot in recent history of making the tournament. But there is still a huge disparity between the Wildcats and the best teams in college basketball.
Early on, Northwestern led 4-3 with 16:09 left in the first half until Maryland freshman and prospective first-round NBA draft pick Diamond Stone was subbed into the game. Stone scored two quick, easy layups, spurring a 12-2 Terrapins run and putting them ahead 15-6. The big man finished with 10 points and three rebounds in just 22 minutes, three days after dropping 39 points and 12 rebounds in a win at Penn State.
Maryland (13-1, 2-0 B1G) proceeded to run the ‘Cats out of their own gym with suffocating defense and efficient offense. Maryland forced eight Northwestern turnovers in just the first half, building a 40-20 lead by halftime.
“I thought we were sped up a little and had some careless turnovers early,” Collins said. “[Maryland’s] defense was really locked in tonight. I was really impressed by the way they defended us.”
Big Ten preseason player of the year Melo Trimble had 24 points, eight assists, and eight rebounds for Maryland. Rasheed Sulaimon added 16 points. One of the best guard tandems in the country, the talented scorers took turns thrashing NU, hitting big shots whenever their team seemed to need it.
Despite a valiant comeback effort driven by a packed, blaring Welsh-Ryan crowd, Northwestern (13-2, 1-1 B1G) never cut the lead to less than 13 points. Sophomore Bryant McIntosh led the Wildcats with 17 points, nine assists, and five rebounds. Senior Tre Demps added nine points.
Coming into the game, the ‘Cats averaged 10 made three pointers per game. But today, they were a dismal 2-for-20 from three-point range. Maryland’s defense was a big reason for that, but NU simply didn’t hit shots. In addition, the Wildcats shot a subpar 13-22 on free throws. It’s hard to win games against anyone when shots aren’t falling, much less the No. 4 team in the country.
“We have to make shots,” Collins said. “We go 2-for-20 from three, we aren’t going to beat a top five team in the country, especially without Alex [Olah] out there. They did a good job defending the three-point line.”
A definite bright spot, freshman Dererk Pardon continued to impress, finishing with eight points and four rebounds three days after his breakout 28-point and 12-rebound performance in the Wildcats’ 81-72 win at Nebraska. The big man ran the floor and rebounded well, a huge help while 7-footer Alex Olah remains sidelined indefinitely with a foot injury. Senior Joey Van Zegeren also added eight points and three rebounds in place of Olah.
Northwestern will look to bounce back on Wed., Jan. 6 at 8 p.m. when Ohio State visits Welsh-Ryan Arena in another Big Ten battle.