Set aside the subplots and the little things, because Northwestern's latest loss, like so many others, can be reduced to one thing. The Wildcats can't score.
Drew Crawford tried. The senior scored 13 first-half points on 5-of-9 shooting, mixing contested makes with positive drives. But he had no help: No Demps versus DePaul, or even Olah against Wisconsin. The team's best player finally tired out, and NU lost 74-51 at Michigan — the latest of a series of bad losses.
"We put a lot on Drew Crawford," Collins said after the game. "He gets a little bit worn out because we're expecting him to score all our points, get our rebounds, defend [Nik] Stauskas and do everything. That takes a toll on you physically."
With Crawford at full strength, NU made the game competitive. The Wildcats trailed only 31-24 at halftime, a minor victory considering their lack of scoring options. Kale Abrahamson made the only other significant contribution. The sophomore drained two field goals late in the period to give NU some hope before entering the locker room.
They came out flat in the second half. The defense sagged, ever so slightly. The intensity dipped, and the one shooter stopped making his shots. Michigan clamped down on Crawford, exposing the Wildcats' lack of scoring options in the process.
"[Drew] plays all of the minutes, has to do all of the dirty work," Abrahamson said. Someone's got to come in and help him with the scoring load. That's on all of us, really. It has to be a collective effort."
Take away some strong "garbage time" play from Alex Olah, and you're looking at a team that failed to rally around its leader. Jershon Cobb was awful: the junior picked up his fourth foul with 13:48 remaining and scored two total points. Tre Demps failed to replicate his DePaul success, flailing in the lane and making just two of his 10 field goal attempts.
The Wildcats are by far the Big Ten's lowest-scoring team, sitting at less than 64 points per game. They're making about 32 percent of their shots – not good enough – and have failed to establish a second consistent scoring threat.
"I feel like we're doing good things on the offensive end," Collins said. "We're moving the ball, getting the good shots, it's just the final piece that's not really working for us.
"I hope one of these nights the law of averages will average itself out. I'm probably the wrong guy to ask. I was a gunner back in the day. If I missed 10, I would shoot the next 10 like I hadn't missed any. That's the kind of mentality I want for our guys."
The better team finally pulled away. Michigan took a 49-35 lead and never relented, with their depth on display. Nik Stauskas scored 18 points, Glenn Robinson III added 12, and Derrick Walton Jr. led an efficient offense that committed just nine turnovers.
Collins said that when the shots stop falling, it hurts other areas of a team's game. And that certainly applied. In practices, and during game time, they can only play their game and hope the ball drops through. Tonight, the lack of offense crumbled around Crawford.
"We've just got to make it a team effort when we can do it all on the same night," Crawford said.
His knees wrapped in heavy ice packs, Crawford had nothing else to say. The team can't score, and until then, can't win.