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Northwestern basketball nearly pulls of upset over No. 2 Indiana in 67-59 loss

Indianforward Christian Watford center shoots over Northwestern center Alex Olah left forward Jared Swopshire during first half an NCAA college

Indiana forward Christian Watford, center, shoots over Northwestern center Alex Olah, left, and forward Jared Swopshire during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Evanston, Ill., Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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Updated: January 20, 2013 7:07PM

Northwestern dictated the pace against the No. 2 team in the country. It also played well enough defensively against the highest-scoring team in the nation to position itself for a monumental upset Sunday at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

It wasn’t enough in the end, but the Wildcats gave Indiana — and the many red-clad fans who invaded Evanston — a scare before falling 67-59.

‘‘We’re just starting to get some sort of identity — who we are, how we’re going to play and how we’re going to play to win,’’ NU coach Bill Carmody said. ‘‘That’s what every team has to do. We’re making some steps. They might be incremental, but we’re getting better.’’

What the Wildcats (11-8, 2-4 Big Ten) accomplished defensively was noteworthy because the Hoosiers (16-2, 4-1) entered the game as the top-scoring team in the country at 85.4 points a game. But regardless of how well they play defensively, victories will be hard to come by without a more consistent effort offensively and on the boards. Indiana outrebounded NU 36-24.

‘‘We’re figuring it out offensively, but what bothers me is the rebounding,’’ Carmody said. ‘‘Our two centers had one rebound between them. That’s scary. That’s not acceptable.’’

The Hoosiers led by 17 points in the first half, but the Wildcats pulled within five on a free throw by Reggie Hearn with 6:34 left. A long three-pointer by Victor Oladipo pushed Indiana’s lead back to 11, and NU could get no closer than five after that.

‘‘Early in the second half, we got some drives, and that opened up the entire offense,’’ Wildcats guard Dave Sobolewski said. ‘‘In the first half, they just had [Cody] Zeller down there, and we couldn’t get anything to the hoop. In the second half, Reggie started going to the rack, and we started getting some foul shots.’’

NU played a lot of man-to-man defense before effectively switching to a 1-3-1 zone in the second half. The Wildcats have played well defensively for four consecutive games.

‘‘There were times when Northwestern took advantage of our mistakes, and they do that better than anybody in the league,’’ Hoosiers coach Tom Crean said.

Zeller scored 21 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead Indiana. Jordan Hulls added 15 points and Christian Watford 14.

Carmody challenged his seniors to shoulder more of the offensive load before the Wildcats’ victory Thursday against Illinois in Champaign, and they delivered again against the Hoosiers. Hearn scored 22 points, and Jared Swopshire had 13 points and seven rebounds.

Tre Demps added 11 points and Sobolewski nine for NU, which is starting to establish — and embrace — an identity on both sides of the ball.

‘‘If we can defend, our offense will figure itself out,’’ Sobolewski said. ‘‘It will take care of the other end.’’

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