LINCOLN, Neb -- One by one, they filed out of the Devaney Center locker room. First, it was Chier Ajou, and then Sanjay Lumpkin followed. Kale Abrahamson stopped his walk to the team bus before remembering to visit with friends in attendance. Each Wildcat had their heads hanging low.
Call it a trap game, a letdown, or whatever you please. Argue that the Wildcats underestimated Nebraska, or just weren’t prepared to play. Regardless of the sentiments, it was an ugly day for Northwestern.
Just three days before, the Wildcats knocked off No. 12 Minnesota at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The victory showcased what Northwestern’s leadership is capable of doing any given night. It also demonstrated Coach Bill Carmody’s ability to adjust his team’s attack. There was an energy and excitement built with the win.
Northwestern just didn’t have it this time. The Wildcats stumbled out of the gates offensively. Soon enough, Nebraska found its niche and took advantage of NU mistakes.
The game turned early on, when Alex Olah misfired a pass to the hands of Husker guard Benny Parker, who streaked to the hoop for a simple lay-up. Behind him, five Wildcats stood still and watched. That was the way it went on Saturday.
“I don’t think it had anything to do with us not coming ready to play, or not taking Nebraska seriously,” said point guard Dave Sobolewski, who led all scorers with 21 points. It was the sophomore’s gritty effort which afforded his team a chance.
“We came out knowing that if we didn’t come to play, then they could beat us,” he added.
Unfortunately for Sobolewski, he had little help. Jared Swopshire’s 11 points and career-high 16 rebounds kept the Wildcats afloat. Those performances weren’t nearly enough.
The reliable Reggie Hearn wasn’t close to his usual form, hitting just 2-of-11 from the field and tallying six points.
“He had an air ball [in the second half], so something was up,” said Carmody, attempting to explain Hearn’s struggles.
Northwestern’s supporting cast was also no-show in Lincoln. Tre Demps, in his second straight start at guard, hit on just one shot and missed all five 3-point attempts. Alex Marcotullio hit just one of five 3-point attempts. Centers Alex Olah and Mike Turner provided three points and three rebounds in their 39 combined minutes.
On the opposite bench, everything went right. Northwestern had no answer for Nebraska guard Dylan Talley, as he record 20 points, nor could they contain forward Brandon Ubel as he posted a double-double while pushing around the Wildcats’ big men.
The Wildcats leave with many bruises after a dismal performance.
“It’s just one game,” said Jared Swopshire, the fifth-year senior, who offers veteran guidance for his young team. “We’ve got to learn from it and come ready to play the next game.”
NU’s film session on Sunday will offer plenty to learn from. The most important question to get answered: why did Nebraska have such success on defense? The Huskers held Northwestern to 32.1 percent from the field and forced 11 turnovers. They cut off the Princeton’s passing lanes, holding the Wildcats to just nine assists.
The Wildcats can figure out what happened to their depth, and why there was such a significant lack of production around Sobolewski and Swopshire. Such adjustments will be absolutely critical moving forward.
They can hope the film explains why they weren’t even competitive in a very winnable game.
Leaving Lincoln, Northwestern has nothing to be pleased with. Its effort was lacking and execution was poor. On Sunday back in Evanston—as a road meeting with No. 1 Michigan looms—much learning must be done.
For a team gripping momentum before Saturday’s game, such a sad performance is inexcusable. What went wrong for the Wildcats, they must figure out.