Olah labored through two sprained ankles to put up 17 points and 11 rebounds, but without Jershon Cobb and Nikola Cerina, the Wildcats (12-16, 5-10 Big Ten) ultimately fell short to the Hoosiers (15-11, 5-8) at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Despite getting out-rebounded and shooting less than 27 percent from behind the arc, Indiana fielded four players with double-digit point totals.
"They just have athlete after athlete," Chris Collins said. "We needed another ball handler on the floor because of their quickness. I'm really proud of the way our guys hustled, though."
Olah would stuff Yogi Ferrell on an opening-minute drive, and banked home NU's first six points through a lay-up, put-back and jumper.
"Alex Olah was tremendous. He was in a walking boot all week, and he came out and played the way he did," said Collins. "It shows the growth he's made over the course of the season."
The rest of the offense could not do the same, however: Drew Crawford, Tre Demps and Sanjay Lumpkin were the only other Wildcats to net a first-half basket. Ferrell and Noah Vonleh paced the Hoosiers with 7 points apiece, and Troy Williams would add six on three athletic dunks.
The Hoosiers lead by as many as 12 in the second half, but a three from Olah and deep conversions from Demps and Kale Abrahamson cut the deficit to four with 2:21 to play. But Ferrell and Williams would add smooth cuts through the Wildcat baseline, and after a goaltending call gave Demps and Northwestern some last-minute momentum, Indiana's Will Sheehey drained a trey at the top of the key to all but ice the game. The shorthanded Wildcats would fall on the wrong side of a 61-56 final.
"Northwestern's staff is doing such a good job making this team better," Tom Crean said. "Chris is going to be an outstanding coach for a long, long time. They're extremely tough to score against because of their ability to switch defenses, their physicality, and their quickness in transition. They're going to get much better."
It was an encouraging effort from NU. With a hobbled Olah as the only available big, the Wildcats still forged an efficient post game against Vonleh and outrebounded Indiana, the conference's second-ranked team on the glass. But Drew Crawford had another underwhelming performance Saturday, slumping to just nine points on 2-of-10 shooting.
Olah and Demps will be counted on to keep their momentum rolling for the rest of the season, with BTN's Stephen Bardo reporting that JerShon Cobb will be shelved for the remainder of the year with a foot injury. Collins was hesitant to rule Cobb out, and informed media that his foot swelled up after Northwestern's loss to Ohio State Wednesday.
"We're going to have to start getting [Nathan] Taphorn and Kale [Abrahamson] in there now. We have to space the floor going forward. We're going to need those guys to be ready to play minutes," Collins said. "Really, we have just three guys taking the bulk of our shots, and that makes it hard. Teams are smart. They know who your top options are, and we need to figure out how to manufacture offense and build confidence in these last few weeks."
The Wildcats will try to snap their five-game losing streak and pick it up at Nebraska next Saturday, before returning Thursday, March 6 to host Penn State in the season's home finale.