When scorers are shut down, Northwestern has nowhere to turn

When scorers are shut down, Northwestern has nowhere to turn
February 17, 2014, 4:30 pm
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(USA TODAY Sports Images)
Vinnie Duber

Drew Crawford, JerShon Cobb and Tre Demps have had great seasons for Northwestern. Chris Collins’ problem isn’t his three leading scorers, though, it’s that there aren’t any options past his three leading scorers.

The Wildcats’ offensive struggles have been well documented. They’re the Big Ten’s lowest-scoring team, averaging 60.7 points per game, and points weren’t even that plentiful in the most recent loss, a 54-48 defeat against Minnesota on Sunday.

The key to that loss, Collins explained, was once again his team’s inability to put the ball in the basket. But more specifically, it was the Gophers’ ability to shut down Crawford and Demps, as the duo combined for just 11 points. Crawford, the Cats’ leading scorer and the conference’s ninth-best scorer, had just two points.

“I thought they did a great job on both Drew and Tre, which took away our rhythm,” Collins said after the game. “Even though we didn’t turn the ball over, I thought those guys not being able to get the ball in their sweet spots just took them out of their rhythm a little bit.”

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As the head coach frequently point out, the team’s scoring struggles are nothing new, and neither is leaning on the trio of Crawford, Cobb and Demps to provide the bulk of the offense.

Northwestern has scored 1,577 points on the season. Crawford leads the way with 391, with Cobb scoring 298 and Demps accounting for 279. Crawford alone has produced almost a quarter of the team’s points, while the trio has scored 61.4 percent of Northwestern’s total points.

The Cats have thrived on defense to turn in what has so far been a season that’s surpassed almost all expectations, but as opponents have matched that defensive effort, the losses have started coming more frequently, as they were before Collins engineered an impressive turnaround.

“Our guys are playing really hard, and I can’t fault their effort out there. It’s just our margin for error in this league is very slim,” Collins said. “We’re going to play close games, and we have to execute down the stretch and get stops. The games that we’ve won, we’ve done those things. The games that we haven’t, the other team has done those things. So we’ve just to regroup and get ready for the next one.”

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When opposing defenses can take one or even two of the Cats’ primary scorers out of the equation — as Minnesota did Sunday — Collins has few options to turn to. When asked what he can do when such a thing happens on Sunday, the coach was blunt with his response and offered a grim prognosis for the remainder of the season.

“I’m not sure,” Collins said. “That’s where we’re at, we don’t have a whole lot of depth. We need to find and I need to do a better job of trying to, helping guys manufacture more points. ... When teams take Tre and Drew or a combination of two of my three top scorers out of the game, things are going to be tough for us.

“And I don’t see that changing a whole lot in the last five games.”