Less than two weeks ago, Drew Crawford was recognized as the National Player of the Week.
Since then, he’s popped the team’s postseason bubble.
Crawford shot 1-for-15, committed a costly late turnover, and Northwestern lost to Minnesota 54-48 at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
“We’re going to ride him whether he shoots 1-of-15 or 1-of-15,” Tre Demps said.
With that, the same problems emerged in NU’s third straight loss. The Wildcats (12-14, 5-8 Big Ten) failed to score from the 7:10 mark to the 0:15 mark of the second half. They also shot 30 percent to Minnesota’s 46 percent, which counterbalanced the Gophers’ 17 turnovers.
“Our offense is what it is,” Chris Collins said. “That’s who we’ve been the whole year. At times, it’s looked really good. Your defense can only hold up so long.”
This loss kills the Wildcats’ NIT hopes. After a brief winning streak, and an upcoming three-game stretch against Nebraska, Michigan State and Minnesota, they were poised to make a run. Instead, they lost all three games, looking more like the NU team from nonconference play.
Much of their success obviously hinged on Crawford, who tore up the nation as NU raced to 5-5 in conference play. The senior went 4-of-13 against Nebraska, and in the next home game, followed with the worst game of his storied career.
“I’ve got to get him in positions where he can get fouled,” Collins said. “Both Drew and Tre had no free-throw attempts. When it’s not going, that’s how you manufacture points.”
Jershon Cobb was the only reliable offensive threat for NU, scoring 23 points—including a 5-of-7 clip from behind the arc. Alex Olah had 10 before leaving with an apparent ankle injury and Tre Demps added 9.
It was an especially disappointing loss for the Wildcats given that they played their best first half of the season. The ball movement was crisp, Sanjay Lumpkin held up defensively, and they entered the locker room leading 28-25.
Minnesota guard Deandre Mathieu gave his team a long-awaited offensive spark out of the break, though, scoring 10 points in the opening eight minutes of the second half.
But when both offenses stalled, it became a battle of attrition. Cobb went almost six minutes without shooting late in the game—shortly after picking up his fourth foul. ("I blame myself," Cobb said.) With Crawford and Demps (4-of-13) struggling, there were simply no other options.
The key play came with NU down 46-44. Alex Olah went down with an apparent ankle injury on the offensive end, and the officials refused to blow the play dead. Andre Hollins—injured in the teams’ first matchup—hit a triple that put Minnesota up by five with 3:09 remaining.
Collins said his understanding of the rule is that the refs try to avoid keeping the opposing team from a breakaway. The head coach added that he “thought it was close.”
“In a normal situation, you’d just take a foul,” Collins said. “But we were over the limit.”
With the score stuck at 49-44, Lumpkin missed two free throws and Kale Abrahamson fanned on a front end. That, finally, did them in.
“In a tight game, every little play matters,” Collins said. “We missed some critical free throws, missed a couple of layups, and then, the play when Alex gets hurt, it’s just an unlucky break.”