Northwestern comes close

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So far during this crazy and upset-minded college basketball season, the best story has been the play of Northwestern, which lost to visiting Purdue 69-65 last Sunday in a Big Ten clash at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Even with the setback, the Wildcats will probably qualify for the NCAA men’s tournament, something they’ve never done and it’s been in existence since 1939.

Even with the setback, the Wildcats will probably qualify for the NCAA men’s tournament, something they’ve never done…

Much of the turnaround is due to head coach Chris Collins, a former guard at Duke and an assistant under Mike Krzyzewski, the all-time winningest college coach who has directed the Blue Devils to five national titles.

Deadlocked at 37-37 at the intermission, the Boilermakers, who placed first in the conference during the regular season, used the presence of sophomore power forward Caleb Swanigan, who had his 25th double-double of the year after tallying 20 points with 14 rebounds and three assists.

“We wanted to go inside to our big man,’’ said Purdue head coach Matt Painter of the second-half strategy that has helped Swanigan become a national Player of the Year candidate.

Number 16 ranked Boilermakers (25-6 and 14-4 in conference) pulled in front 59-50 when one-time Michigan point guard and current graduate student Spike Albrecht (two points with two boards and four assists) located Swanigan in the painted area for a dunk as seven minutes remained.

The Wildcats (21-10 and 10-8 in conference) drew within 59-56 with 4:28 left after sophomore center Dererk Pardon (11 points with four boards and four assists) swished in a 10-foot jumper.

With 11:14 on the clock, Swanigan’s five-footer gave Purdue (24 of 54 from the floor for 44.4 percent) a 51-46 cushion.

Purdue’s lead was 47-42 with 14:56 showing on a dunk and the only points from junior center Isaac Haas on a brilliant pass from junior forward Vincent Edwards (team-best 25 points with five assists and four rebounds).

Northwestern (27 of 60 for 45 percent) kept it relatively close behind the play of junior point guard Bryant McIntosh, who had 12 points at the half and led the way with 25 points, six assists and two caroms.

When senior swingman Sanjay Lumpkin (13 points with seven boards) scored on a driving layup and 15:43 left, it gave the Wildcats a 10-9 edge.

Northwestern freshman center Barrett Benson (two rebounds and one assist) scored his only points on a layup with 13:05 left for an 18-12 advantage and the Wildcats led 21-16 with 10:14 on the clock.

Purdue then used a 7-0 outburst that saw Swanigan feather in a three-pointer as the Boilermakers forged ahead 23-21 with 8:02 showing.

With 3:37 remaining before the half, the Northwestern lead was cut to 30-29 when freshman point guard Carsen Edwards (two rebounds) scored his only two points at the free-throw line.

Rick Assad has written about sports for the Pasadena Star-News and Los Angeles Times. Contact him at richsports5@sbcglobal.net.

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