Northwestern won its first postseason game in 17 years on Wednesday night 70-61 over Milwaukee in an odd fashion. It wasn't that Wildcats made more threes, even though they did 12 to 11, or committed fewer turnovers, though they did that too 16 to 11, it was offensive rebounding and free throw shooting that carried them.
The Wildcats had their third best offensive rebounding game of the year, grabbing 16 offensive rebounds which equated to 44.4% of their misses. Percentage wise it was topped only by efforts against Northern Illinois and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, decidedly inferior opponents.
Then, facing a team that really has a knack for going to the free throw line, Northwestern outshot the Panthers from the charity stripe, going 14-16 compared to just 4-5 for Milwaukee. The Panthers' free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 9.8% was their second lowest of the season. Milwaukee came in averaging a free throw rate more than four times that at 45.1%.
But Northwestern managed to do something many teams can't, apply pressure while not committing too many fouls. The Wildcats' 1-3-1 defense, with Alex Marcotullio on top against Kaylon Williams and the wings being especially willing to go for the jump and steal, filled passing lanes and forced bad passes. Northwestern had nine steals in the game, including three by Marcotullio.
On offense the Wildcats were sloppy at times, but a steady diet of free throws and offensive rebounds were more than enough to make up for 11 turnovers and 9-27 shooting in the second half. Northwestern still managed to finish at 1.15 points per possession, almost exactly its season average.
In fact, Northwestern treated the Panthers as if they were exactly an average NCAA Division I basketball team, which ironically, having come in ranked 143rd in KenPom rankings, they almost were. Northwestern has adjusted efficiencies of 114.8 points/100 possessions on offense and 100.5 on defense this season according to Pomeroy. Northwestern finished with a 114.8 points/100 possessions on offense and exactly 100.0 on defense on Wednesday.
Now the Wildcats have to travel to Boston for an early Saturday morning game against Boston College. The game is at 11 a.m. ET / 10 a.m. CT on ESPN. Yeah national television, boo really early start time. Still, maybe the Wildcats will get some casual fans itching to see college basketball before the NCAA Tournament starts back up.
The two teams are very evenly matched and Boston College is one of those power conference teams that have the luxury of experience with Joe Trapani, Reggie Jackson and Corey Raji. It'll be another battle with lots of offense and little defense, but I'll break it all down later in the week.