It was the simple things that pushed Northwestern over the top in an impressive 75-60 win at Welsh-Ryan Arena. When Purdue lacked focus, NU capitalized. The Cats created open looks and avoided costly mistakes. The Nebraska loss still appears costly, but the drive has yet to disappear.
Painter was left complaining. Carmody, on the other hand, praised his team – and for good reason. After a poor practice on Friday, the Cats arrived at 7 a.m. prepared to bounce back from consecutive poor performances.
"It makes you feel good as a staff," Carmody said. "Guys are sharing the ball and doing the right things. They seemed to be on the same page."
That was evident from the get-go. NU cruised to an early 12-0 lead and hardly slipped. Reggie Hearn scored a career-high 26 points, and helped to key the victory. Still, Carmody said the solid offensive game required a collective effort.
"The shots went in, but they were good shots," Carmody said. "We certainly executed very well. There was no tension on offense."
In one of his finest efforts yet, Dave Sobolewski anchored the team. The emotional leader scored 13 points and added six assists. Most important, though, was that he led an offense free of this "tension."
The Cats did not turn the ball over in the second half. When Purdue looked to mount a comeback, they were thwarted simply because Northwestern maximized its opportunities. The mistake-free play rattled Purdue.
Though the Boilermakers had just eight turnovers, they showed poor defensive awareness. The Cats saw open looks for all 40 minutes, which contributed to their 53 percent clip from the floor.
"You've got to have discipline," Painter said. "It's what we don't have right now. You have to fight them, beat them to loose balls … We didn't have the discipline to guard them."
Every coach seems to know that when teams play NU, they cannot lose sight of shooters. Painter identified Hearn and Sobolewski as the "big-time" shooters – players they need to shut down on the perimeter.
In losses, the Cats struggle to create open looks from the floor. They labor through the Princeton and shoot low-percentage three-pointers late in the shot clock. Today, that was not an issue.
Four starters knocked down multiple three-point field goals. Even when patient, Sobolewski and his teammates found the open man.
"We scored a lot as the shot clock was winding down," Sobolewski said. "That was good to see."
Painter was unsettled. His defense is in shambles. He has reason to question team discipline. A.J. Hammons dominated the interior with 19 points and 13 rebounds, but he was late for the team bus and did not start. NU looked focused and eager to play. Purdue had several players look lost.
"We had too many guys have too many breakdowns," Painter said.
Disciplined basketball. Open looks. Solid team play. NU's commanding win was built on the basics.
There was no late-game scare and no terrifying run from the opponent. The Cats made sure to stay at arm's length, and to execute just like they drew it up.
After the game, it seemed like Carmody was happier than ever. He had every right to be.
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