A rare preseason ranking has not held up well for Northwestern, which will try to bounce back from its first loss of the campaign when it meets La Salle in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut on Saturday. Following two lackluster wins over seemingly overmatched teams, the 20th-ranked Wildcats were overwhelmed defensively in a 92-88 loss to Creighton at home Wednesday night.
“You score 88 points, you should be able to win,” coach Chris Collins told the media after his team allowed the Bluejays to shoot 51.5 percent. “We’ve got to be better on the defensive end.” Junior Vic Law did his best to keep Northwestern close with a career-high 30 points as the squad’s five starters produced all but four of the Wildcats’ points and each of their 32 field goals. They will hope for more balance against the Explorers, who have survived some tight affairs en route to a 3-0 start. Following a double-overtime victory over city rival Pennsylvania, La Salle used a big first half and held on to top South Alabama 81-73 on Thursday.
TV: 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3
ABOUT LA SALLE (3-0): Senior guard B.J. Johnson has burst out of the gate with three straight double-doubles, including a dominant 30-point, 11-rebound effort in Thursday’s triumph. Isiah Deas added a career-high 15 points and fellow sophomore Saul Phiri recorded his second consecutive double-double, but coach John Giannini knows all the gaudy numbers mean little unless his team can execute defensively down the stretch. “Some people play zone and man [defense], we play our man two different ways,” Giannini told the media Thursday after his team gave up 46 second-half points. “We had some players that, when we tried to change, didn’t execute at all, and we gave up wide-open layups at crunch time, which is obviously unacceptable.”
ABOUT NORTHWESTERN (2-1): Senior Bryant McIntosh scored 24 points while playing all 40 minutes against Creighton and he is 16-for-29 from the floor - including 3-of-5 from long range - over the last two games. In addition to McIntosh (19 points per game) and Law (17.3), three others are scoring in double figures, a trio led by senior guard Scottie Lindsey (16.0). Beyond that quintet, only four reserves have seen any action and they are averaging a combined 1.4 points on 4-of-21 shooting for a top-heavy squad.
1. The winner will play either Texas Tech or Boston College in a title game Sunday, while the loser gets a consolation game.
2. McIntosh has hit all 14 of his free throws and owns an 85.8 percent career mark at the line.
3. The Explorers have won all three previous meetings, the most recent occuring in 2000.
PREDICTION: Northwestern 86, La Salle 78