The third-seeded Terps finally found out their first opponent in the Big Ten tournament around midnight March 9. Northwestern (22-10, 11-8) demolished Rutgers in the late game, 83-61, and now will take on Maryland (24-7, 12-6) for the second time this season March 10 in the Verizon Center.
"It's going to be a tough challenge, especially here," Wildcats coach Chris Collins said of facing Maryland. "This is their home gym and they beat us pretty good when they played us a couple weeks ago. We are going to have to play much better and we know what we are up against (with) those guys."
The last time these two squads met, Feb. 15 in Evanston, Ill., Terps’ junior guard Melo Trimble and his teammates emerged with a 74-64 victory. Trimble went off for a career-high 32 points on 12-of-17 shooting and 4-of-5 from range, while adding in three assists and a steal. Anthony Cowan chipped in 13 points and big man Damonte Dodd showed off some offensive skill with a dozen points. In total, Maryland shot 50 percent from the field, 44 percent from deep and won the rebounding battle 40-31.
Northwestern, meanwhile, shot just 39 percent and 23 percent from beyond the arc. Leading scorer Bryant McIntosh had only nine points on 3-of-13 from the field, and potent threat Vic Law had 12 points on 4-of-12.
Since that loss, the Wildcats had been on somewhat of a downswing. They’d lost three of their last five games to close the regular season before bouncing back and beating Rutgers March 9.
"[But now] they believe,” Collins said of his team. "They have been through a lot of tough times and have taken their lumps when they were young kids. They have worked hard, they've gotten better, and now they believe they are good. It is fun to be their coach."
In the second-round Big Ten tourney triumph, Northwestern went on a 31-0 run and ended up shooting 60 percent from the field and 45 percent from range.
"We had to come out and throw the first punch," said Law, who made five of his six shots but didn't know it was a 31-0 run. "We had a lot of stuff going our way. A lot of stuff was rolling for us. But I think Rutgers might've been a little tired. When things were going well for us, they seemed to be missing open shots."
The Wildcats received 16 points from Law and Scottie Lindsey, and 13 apiece from McIntosh and Derek Pardon.
"It showed that we actually do have some firepower," McIntosh said. "In the last couple months, [people have] said that we really struggle to score, and that's been true. To come out and do that, it gave everybody confidence, but I also think it showed everyone that we are capable of scoring, as well."
Defensively, they held Rutgers to 41.5 percent shooting, forced 11 turnovers and out-boarded the Scarlet Knights 33-19 (that’s right, RU had just 19 rebounds).
And defense has been Northwestern’s trademark all season. Northwestern is second in the Big Ten in scoring defense (64.9 points per), second in field goal defense (40 percent), third in 3-point defense (32.5 percent) and third in blocks (5.3 per). That said, Wildcats ranks near the bottom of the conference in rebounding and rebounding margin, and bigger, longer foes have given them trouble.
Offensively, Northwestern scores 71.4 points per (12th in Big Ten), shoots 43 percent from the floor (11th) and 33.7 percent from 3 (12th). In fact, it ranks among the worst shooting teams in the country: 232nd in effective field goal percentage and 226th overall.
The Wildcats do can their free throws (75 percent, third in Big Ten), though. Northwestern also does not turn the ball over with McIntosh running the show, sitting first in the league with a 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio and fourth in turnover margin.
The point guard McIntosh leads squad at 14.6 points per game on 39-percent shooting and 86.5 percent from the line (second in the Big Ten). He averages just under six assists per, has around a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio (one of the conference’s best), and grabs about three rebounds a night. McIntosh, however, isn’t a particularly potent 3-point specialist, connecting at a 28.7-percent rate.
“He’s a very confident kid and always has been. He’s smart, has a great feel, and he can score at the rim; the floater; and he can make 3s,” Turgeon said before. “And he’s tall enough to see over people and make passes. … He’s one of the best guards in the league – there’s no doubt about it.”
Next to McIntosh is guard Scottie Lindsey, who missed the Maryland game earlier during the year due to illness. It was a big loss for the Wildcats, because Lindsey is second on the team at 14 points per game. He connects at a 42 percent rate and is 33 percent from deep. He also racks up over four rebounds per, dishes out a couple assists and nabs a steal each time out.
At wing, the aforementioned Vic Law is third on the squad at 12.5 points per game. He shoots 40 percent from the field and 38 percent from range, proving to be the Wildcats’ most reliable deep threat. Law grabs six boards per and picks up a steal each night to lead the team.
Backup wing Nate Taphorn rotates in frequently and typically drops in a bucket or two. He’s a 44 percent shooter from 3 too, so he’s capable of knocking down a long-range shot off the bench.
Starting forward Sanjay Lumpkin scores 6.3 point per game on 57 percent from the floor and 32 percent from distance. Lumpkin picks up 5.8 rebounds per too.
Finally, at center Derek Pardon leads the team at 8.0 rebounds and just under two blocks a game (fourth in the Big Ten). Pardon also drops in eight points a night on 61 percent from the field, although he struggles from the line (5- percent).
Another frontcourt presence of note is forward Skelly Gavin, who rotates in and sees almost 19 minutes per game. Gavin scores 6.3 points per, but he’s known as a rim protector. The 6-8 big is second to Pardon and ninth in the league in blocks at 1.3 per.