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Defense not enough in Northwestern’s loss to Nebraska

Northwestern’s Drew Crawford puts up shot against Nebraska. He scored 13 points but was 4-for-13 from field. | Geoff Scheerer/Sun-Times

Northwestern’s Drew Crawford puts up a shot against Nebraska. He scored 13 points but was 4-for-13 from the field. | Geoff Scheerer/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 10, 2014 6:55AM

Playing a grind-it-out style isn’t a choice for Northwestern. The Wildcats slow the game down, limit possessions and play suffocating defense by

But even though that’s a
prudent strategy for a team with underwhelming talent, that style still comes with consequences.

Playing close games like it does, NU needs to have some luck on its side to win. And the Wildcats didn’t have it in their 53-49 loss Saturday to Nebraska at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Sure, there are elements of the game NU (12-12, 5-6 Big Ten) hasn’t mastered — and won’t this season. Given that, though, the Wildcats can’t have things they’re unable to control go against them.

For example, with NU trailing 42-36 with 6:07 left, JerShon Cobb (14 points) had a layup blocked after the ball hit the backboard. Goaltending should have been called. Instead, Benny Parker went on to score four seconds later to extend the Cornhuskers’ lead to eight.

‘‘You’re in a competitive battle that’s a 40-point game, so two points is big, especially when they run down and score on the other end,’’ Wildcats coach Chris Collins said. ‘‘[The officials] called a good game. There are going to be missed calls; it happens all the time. I thought, for the most part, it was a consistently called game.’’

But it seemed as though the calls — or at least the timeliness of them — didn’t go NU’s way. The Wildcats were whistled for only five fouls in the first half, with forward Sanjay Lumpkin guilty of only one. But a little more than seven minutes into the second half, Lumpkin — one of NU’s best defenders — found himself saddled with four fouls, forcing Collins to sit him.

What ensued wasn’t surprising. Nebraska opened a six-point lead in Lumpkin’s absence. That’s difficult for a Wildcats team that essentially goes only six players deep to overcome, even in a game in which it was favored.

‘‘I don’t think this had anything to do with our guys thinking we were favored,’’ Collins said. ‘‘I think we just played our game. We just came up short.’’


Twitter: @SethGruen

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