Free throws and rebounding have won basketball game since the days of Bill Russell, and Monday night was no different for the Northwestern Wildcats. The No. 20 ‘Cats (2-0) defeated Saint Peter’s (0-2) 75-66 behind 23-of-24 free throw shooting and a plus-18 rebounding margin.
“It’s one of those games where you just got to grind out the game,” head coach Chris Collins said afterwards. “I was really pleased with our free throw shooting. Last game we missed 13 free throws.”
Point guard Bryant McIntosh led the way in scoring with 17 points and seven rebounds, while center Dererk Pardon added 15 points – including one emphatic dunk. All five starters scored in double digits.
“We were ready to play,” McIntosh said. “We showed it right away. It’s a long game, and we had a couple lapses, a few mistakes.”
The ‘Cats did indeed start with their foot on the gas, scoring first on a Vic Law layup and sending the small crowd into a frenzy with Law-to-Gavin Skelly alley-oop.
One of the major storylines going into this season is how Collins will manage minutes, especially among key role players. In the first half alone, nine players saw court time, with six of them finding the basket in one way or another.
Starting for the Wildcats were some familiar faces in McIntosh, Lindsey, Vic Law, Gavin Skelly and Pardon, all of whom started Friday night’s game as well. Freshman Anthony Gaines saw the most minutes (15) off the bench, scoring five points as he looks to solidify his role going forward.
Early on, the ‘Cats went big and limited Saint Peter’s on offense while controlling the glass on both sides of the court. Once Collins decided to go smaller with four players under 6-foot-4, Saint Peter’s began to close the gap.
After one defensive lapse, Collins audibly shouted, “you’re good, you’re good. Next play,” from the sidelines.
“Some of these teams that play five guards or big guys that are out on the floor, it’s hard to get a more traditional low post guy out there,” he said. ”We had to matchup smaller because it allowed us to switch (on defense).”
After being tied 15-15 about halfway through the first half, Northwestern finished the period on a 17-10 run behind fast break buckets from McIntosh to make it 32-25 Northwestern. Turnovers plagued the team throughout the night, though, as the ‘Cats turned it over 17 times.
“It kind of falls on me,” McIntosh said regarding the uncharastically high number of turnovers. “I need to stop trying to make a spectacular pass and just hit singles. I think it’s also early in the season and we’ll clean it up – I’m sure of it.”
Although turnovers were a theme throughout the night, Northwestern’s offensive attack made up for the carelessness. Back-to-back threes from Lindsey (12 points, six assists) and Skelly (14 points, six rebounds) sparked a 13-5 Northwestern run to open the second half to extend the lead to 45-30.
“I told my team I was going to be better today,” Skelly said. “Once I kind of made a couple baskets, it kind of opened up for me.”
After Pardon cleaned up a Law (10 points, seven rebounds) missed shot and made the putback, Northwestern led 61-47 with seven minutes remaining. Saint Peter’s closed it to single digits with three minutes to play, but it was never enough to really come back as Northwestern basically matched the Peacocks (yes, their mascot is actually the Peacock) basket to basket down the stretch.
Northwestern next takes the court against Creighton at 7 p.m. on Wednesday night at All-State Arena.
“We gotta put 40 minutes together. We gotta be really locked in defensively,” Collins said of the Creighton game. “I know they’re a really good team.”