Northwestern Has a Lot to be Gained from Loss to Maryland

At a glance, Northwestern’s 72-59 loss to Maryland on Saturday night in Evanston could look like a fall back to Earth by a team playing better than expected. The Wildcats are off to their best start in school history through 15 games and sits in the standings amongst the elite of the Big Ten. One of those teams is the Maryland Terrapins.

usa-today-9033173.0Maryland led the game for 36 out of 40 minutes and had an answer for every attempt Northwestern made to get back into the game. The Terps were led by Melo Trimble, who had a game high 24 points to go along with eight assists and eight rebounds, and Rasheed Sulaimon added 16 points.

This was the best defense Northwestern has seen, holding them to a season-low 59 points with only 20 of those coming in the first half. Slow starts have been an issue for Northwestern so far this season, and against teams like Maryland, those are holes they are not going to be able to climb out of easily.

“I thought we were a little bit jittery in the first half”, head coach Chris Collins said after the game. “We had some uncharacteristic turnovers and I thought we got sped up a little bit.”

Northwestern committed five turnovers in the first five minutes of the game, failing to find any rhythm on offense. The Wildcats came in averaging 19 assists per game, second best in the Big Ten, and their offense is based on ball movement and finding the open shooter. Maryland did a great job of disrupting this, only allowing Northwestern 3 assists (all from Bryant McIntosh) in the first half and 11 for the game (9 of those belonged to McIntosh as well).

But this game had a lot more to do with what Maryland did well than what Northwestern did wrong. The biggest blemish in Northwestern’s game was their poor three-point shooting, something they’ve excelled at so far this season. They shot 2-20 from long range, but to Maryland’s credit, they crowded their shooters all night and forced them to find other ways to score.

“Sometimes when you lose a game you come in and talk about all the things you didn’t do and what you could have done better, and we certainly have them, but tonight a lot of it had to do with what Maryland did to us”, said Collins.

The truth is, there was not a whole lot wrong with the way Northwestern played. Aside from their poor shooting, they outplayed Maryland in points in the paint, 2nd chance points and fast break points. Had the Wildcats shot anywhere near their season average from the three point line, this would have been a much closer game.

This is the kind of game Northwestern can really grow from. Sitting atop the Big Ten standings is unfamiliar territory for them, as is having a realistic shot against teams like Maryland. In past years they would have been counted out of this game but their early season success has gotten a little bit of national attention, receiving votes in the AP and Coaches polls.

“When you play really good teams a thing that’s good is you get exposed in some of your weaknesses and I thought they exposed us a little bit with some of the things we’ve got to get better at”, Collins said.

I would argue that Northwestern learned more from this game than they did in any of their 13 wins. They need to attack teams earlier in games and find other ways to score when their perimeter shots aren’t going down. Right now it takes them way too long to make adjustments, which doesn’t fly against really good teams.

“It’s an 18 round fight and we lost one round”, McIntosh said after the game. “We can’t lose consecutive rounds or we aren’t going to be able to do what we want to do. Our mindset now is we’ve got to win the next round”.

Northwestern will have another chance to step into the ring with Maryland in a couple of weeks, and if they want to have a better chance of winning that contest, we need to see some growth.

The next round is Wednesday night against Ohio State.