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March 9, 2014

Cats close season with road win


Northwestern closed out its regular season with a bang, not a whimper.

Drew Crawford poured in 27 points in his last regular-season game as the Wildcats snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 74-65 road win over Purdue.

The victory was Northwestern's fourth away from home in the rugged Big Ten this season and enabled the Wildcats to sweep Purdue for the first time since 2006.

Here are our rapid reactions:



Did you see that? Drew Crawford stuffs A.J. Hammons. Northwestern started the second half well, but a Terone Johnson layup and a Tre Demps turnover gave the Boilermakers the ball with a chance to cut the deficit to five. They went to the ultra-talented Hammons down low, and he took a drop step before rising up for a dunk attempt. Crawford met him right there and overpowered the two-hand try with one strong arm. He then grabbed the rebound, and Alex Olah scored on the other end.



Offensive player of the game: Crawford. It's tough to pick against a guy who pours in 27 points, especially considering that's only five fewer than the Wildcats scored as a team against Penn State on Thursday. He did it in every way we've seen from him throughout the years: tough 3, pull-up jumpers, little jump hooks from the block, and a bunch of free throws -- 13-of-14, to be exact. Olah also deserves recognition, though. He showed off his swooping sky hook through the lane that he's improved on so much, and he hit yet another 3-pointer. That's six in the last four games.



Defensive player of the game: Crawford. It's tough to say the reason he's playing hard is that he's nearing the end of his career, because he's done so since he came in as a freshman. We've seen some poor offensive performances from the senior leader, but you can always expect him to give his all on defense. The last game of the regular season was no exception. He rose up for the big block on Hammons, snatched two steals and crashed the glass for a team-high seven rebounds. Olah could also have been chosen for this because of the subpar offensive output from Hammons, but it looked like that was more because of Hammons' complacency than Olah's lockdown D.



Turning point: Drew's dagger. It looked as though this point was going to be much earlier in the half, but Purdue managed to fight back and make it interesting late. It was 64-58 with 1:47 to go, and Purdue was putting on the press. The Wildcats came very near to a turnover before crossing the mid-court line just in time. They ran the shot clock down and looked very uncomfortable doing it. The ball landed in Crawford's hands at the right wing, and with a hand in his face, he launched a rainbow three that swished as cleanly as it possibly could have.



Key stat: 1960. That's the last time Northwestern won four conference games on the road. We've seen what seems like a home-court disadvantage from Northwestern over the past few years but never to this extent. The Wildcats finished the regular season with twice as many Big Ten road wins as home wins.



Xs and Os: Yet again, the full-court press gave Northwestern fits, but this time, it was a little different. Most of the Wildcats' struggles have come against some sort of zone press, but this time, it was the man-to-man. Coach Chris Collins tried to attack it by sending three guys toward the ball, one of them being Olah. Generally, the tactic against a man-to-man press is to have one guy fight to get open while everyone else clears out and gives him space. Unfortunately for the Cats, it doesn't look like they have someone quick enough to get open on his own and composed enough to bring the ball up the floor one-on-one.




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