It wasn’t pretty, but the ‘Cats got the job done.
Northwestern (6-1) almost blew a 28-point lead before escaping against Georgia Tech (4-2) 67-61. The ‘Cats took a twenty-point halftime lead behind Ryan Taylor’s hot hand, but it was the veteran play of Dererk Pardon and Vic Law that helped the ‘Cats win this round of the ACC/Big Ten challenge and take revenge for last season’s heartbreaking buzzer-beater.
In the face of a strong press D from the Yellow Jackets, the Wildcats took a quick 7-2 lead out the gate and never looked back. A 3 by Miller Kopp and an and-1 by Dererk Pardon (12 pts, 9 reb) off a rebound got the ‘Cats rolling, and strong interior defending prevented Georgia Tech from getting into any offensive rhythm. By the halfway mark in the first half, Northwestern had built a 12-5 lead, helped out tremendously by a series of mental miscues from the Yellow Jackets. Tech began the match 2-8 from the free throw line, and missed a dunk and a bunny lay-in from two feet out that could have kept the match competitive. Northwestern fans may have had something to do with the former, however.
The 'Cats, meanwhile, started smoldering from the court, shooting at a 6/12 clip to begin the match. Vic Law (14 pts, 9 reb) began the game averaging a team-high 18.5 PPG, and displayed his range early on with a turnaround jumper followed by a three off a bad inbounds pass by Georgia Tech. The ‘Cats spread the ball around the field; seven different players scored in the first half. The Yellow Jackets ran a full-court press, but Law, Ryan Turner (20 pts), and Anthony Gaines (8 pts) emerged relatively unscathed to run their sets. With about eight minutes left in the first half, the ‘Cats had taken a 23-11 lead, and only expanded it from there. A Vic Law tip-in and-1 shot pushed the lead to 30-11, and the ‘Cats finished the half on a strong note as Anthony Gaines hit a buzzer beater 3 to give the ‘Cats a dominant 40-20 halftime lead.
The Yellow Jackets just couldn’t get anything to fall against a stingy interior defense led by Pardon and Barret Benson. Top scorers Brandon Alston and Jose Alvarado were kept quiet by the tenacious perimeter defense of Law and Gaines.
Georgia Tech came back with a bigger lineup featuring Abdoulaye Gueye and leading rebounder James Banks III, but still couldn’t get past Pardon and Benson. Taylor hit two consecutive threes to bring the NU advantage to 50-22 as Northwestern continued its scorching hot pace from three. This last three may have sparked life into the Yellow Jackets, who went on a 9-0 run with two threes from Alston to bring the score to 52-37. The ‘Cats began to show signs of tiredness, as errant outlet passes, mental lapses after defensive rebounds, and poor shot selection hurt the Wildcat O. With around eight minutes left, Alvarado started to heat up; a combination of and-1’s and threes brought the deficit down to 12, and after an NU timeout back-to-back Wildcat turnovers gave the Yellow Jackets some hope.
As the mood around Welsh-Ryan shifted from jubilance toward nervousness, Pardon and Law came up with two monstrous buckets. Georgia Tech cut the score down to 10, before Pardon faked a handoff, reversed course and slammed it home. A few possessions later, Vic Law hit a clutch two-point midrange jumper while isolated on a Yellow Jacket defender to ice the win. A late three pulled Georgia Tech back in the match, but their comeback fell short by a score of 67-61.
The ‘Cats did well to stave off the upset bid, but the mental mistakes and lack of concentration in the second half need to be redressed soon: Up next is #7 Michigan, who just pounded #11 North Carolina and held the top scoring offense in the country to just 67 points. Big Ten play awaits, but Northwestern did well to earn a victory against a solid Power 5 opponent. With a relatively lackluster nonconference slate, the Wildcats will need all the wins they can get.
Northwestern plays next against Michigan at Welsh-Ryan on Dec. 4.