Northwestern Responds After Merrimac, Makes Providence Look Ugly

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It’s too bad more fans didn’t show up for what is undoubtedly Northwestern’s marquee home non-conference game this season. Apparently, the upset loss to Merrimac in the season opener, plus the record cold snap hitting the area kept people away from 7,039 capacity Welsh-Ryan Arena.

The venue was well more than a majority empty for the Northwestern Wildcats’ 72-63 win over the Providence Friars in the Gavitt Tipoff games tonight. Like the B1G-ACC Challenge, the Gavitt Games are a series invented by the television networks in a big to garner more interest in early season college basketball. There are plenty of people making free college basketball picks in March, absolutely, but interest in the sport is typically lower in November. While attendance was low, those who did come out experienced the fun of an ’80s theme night.

 

They were treated to some stadium sound system Rick Astley “Never Gonna Give You Up” and Whitney Houston “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” tonight. And a Northwestern student won free text books for a year, by sinking a half court shot. The half court heave elicited quite possibly the loudest roar of the evening.

It was the kind of game that was, well, we’ll call it “pragmatic.” Northwestern won rather decisively, despite committing 20 turnovers and giving up 20 offensive rebounds. At one point, they had a 20 point lead, but saw it whittled all the way down to just three, late in the second half. However, the Cats won the rebounding battle by four, shot almost 50% from the field and 44% from behind the arc.

It was all plenty against a Friars team that shot only 23% from three point range, 61% from the free throw line and 31% for the field. Providence had a 72-47 advantage in shots taken, but couldn’t do anything with it.

“Sometimes analytics don’t tell the whole story, sometimes there’s this thing called heart,” said Northwestern coach Chris Collins.

“I knew were we going to play a lot better, with a lot of fight, but I didn’t know if they were going to win, as Providence is really good.”

“Obviously this was a huge win for us. That’s probably the understatement of the year.”

David Duke (yes, that’s an extremely unfortunate name for the young man to have. Here’s to hoping he goes on to become a NBA Draft pick and later a Basketball Hall of Famer, so he becomes THE David Duke, instead of the former KKK Grand Wizard/disgraced bigoted politician) was the high man for the Friars, scoring 14 points.

Providence was a NIT team last season, after having made a school record five straight NCAA Tournament appearances. They certainly did not resemble a postseason caliber team on this night, sputtering on offense mightily, sometimes from NU’s zone, other times due to their own design.

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Prov. had a lot on unforced errors on offense, looking extremely disjointed much of the night. Northwestern defended decently well during much of the evening, but a lot of the time, the Friars were their own worst enemy.

The Wildcats got balanced scoring, with four players in double figures, led by Ryan Taylor’s 16 (on 7-9 shooting, to go with seven rebounds). Miller Kopp had a nice 12 and 7, while Anthony Gaines put up a 14 and 7. Pete Nance meanwhile was one point and two rebounds shy of a double double, which would have given him two in two games.

Overall, it was a nice bounce back for the Cats, after the devastating loss to Merrimac, a program that was playing just its second ever game at the division I level.

“We spent a lot of time trying to let the air out of the balloon,” Collins said of the opener. “We were really tight in our first game, because everyone wanted to do so well.”

“The players and coaches talked about what we were feeling,” Collins said. “We had a let-it-go moment.”

Said guard Anthony Gaines: “We looked each other in the eyes and said: ‘This can’t happen.’ ”

Collins also discussed how his team played so much freer during Sunday’s practice: “I noticed guys a lot more free. We still made a ton of mistakes tonight, turned it over and didn’t block out at times. But if you play free, with confidence, hard and united, I believe you will give yourself a chance to win.”

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No,  I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link.

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