When talk begins about how the Big Ten is the nation’s toughest conference, Northwestern doesn’t typically come up.
Sunday afternoon, though, the Wildcats were very much so in the conversation, giving Indiana a road test before ultimately falling to the Hoosiers, 67-59, in Evanston, Ill.
Indiana had little trouble with the Wildcats in the first half, leading at the break by 14 points, 31-17. Christian Watford came out aggressive from the opening tip, knocking down a three-pointer on the Hoosiers’ first possession.
But Northwestern’s zone began to take hold in the second half. The Wildcats extended out well away from the basket and, for an eight-minute stretch over the course of the middle of the second, Indiana was held without a field goal.
In that time, Northwestern ripped off a 14-4 run. Integral to that run was the Wildcats spreading the ball around. Four different players scored during that stretch.
Northwestern pulled the game to as close as five points with just over 90 seconds remaining, but a Jordan Hulls floater in the lane pushed the Indiana lead back to seven points.
But one enduring point of emphasis for the Hoosiers is the play of their bench.
Will Sheehey came into Sunday’s game having not scored in the past two games, going a combined 0-of-7 from the floor in 33 minutes. He broke that drought with six points and four rebounds, but that is still off his season average of 10.5 points per game.
Outside of Sheehey, guard Remy Abell went scoreless for a second straight game vs. Northwestern. He now has one combined point in his last three games. Jeremy Hollowell also went scoreless.
Against deeper teams in Big Ten play, Indiana will need more from Sheehey, Abell, and Hollowell.