Northwestern grabbed wins over Texas and Wake Forest earlier in the season, and Saturday at the United Center, the Wildcats added a victory over perennial tournament team Dayton.
The Cats, looking for their first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament, have a resume that should at least warrant attention, with Saturday's 67-64 win over Dayton at the United Center standing as the non-conference centerpiece.
It wasn't easy, though. Northwestern dominated the first half, holding a 23-point edge at the break. But the teams switched roles after halftime, and that lead all but evaporated, the Cats just barely holding off a furious second-half charge by the Flyers.
The first half was all Cats, the Flyers jaw-droppingly making just four baskets over the game's first 20 minutes. Northwestern opened the game on an 11-0 run, its dominance staying consistent from there. The defensive effort was especially impressive, the Cats limiting the Flyers to just 14.3-percent shooting in the first half. While Northwestern clamped down on the defensive end, Dayton didn't have much success stopping the Cats, either. Northwestern shot 51.7 percent from the field in the first half, three different players racking up eight first-half points. Sanjay Lumpkin had a big opening 20 minutes, scoring eight points and grabbing 11 rebounds before halftime.
Well, Dayton figured things out in the second half, completely reversing the abysmal shooting of the first 20 minutes for hot shooting after the break. Northwestern weathered the initial charge, keeping its big lead for the most part. Nathan Taphorn's 3-pointer around the midway point of the half made it a 22-point game at 55-33. But the Cats' production fell off a cliff from there. The Flyers scored the next 13 points to get the deficit to single digits, that 13-0 spurt part of a bigger 19-4 run that had the gap at just seven with a little more than two minutes to go. The run extended to 22-4 and the lead shrunk to just four when Dayton's Scoochie Smith ripped the ball away from Vic Law on an inbounds play and drilled a 3-pointer.
From there, Bryant McIntosh and Chicago-native Kendall Pollard traded baskets, sending the Northwestern lead to 61-57 with 42.8 seconds left. McIntosh's made basket was the Cats' first since the 10:18 mark of the half, ending a nine-minute-and-18-second span without a made field goal. The teams traded free throws over the final minute, with Northwestern making just enough to barely hold on for the win. The Cats almost screwed up the inbounds play up three with two seconds left, but a replay review gave them the ball back.
Northwestern made just one basket over the final 10 minutes of the game, shooting a dismal 27.3 percent in the second half. Dayton fueled its comeback with 51.9-percent shooting over the final 20 minutes.
Lumpkin finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds in his double-double effort. McIntosh scored 13 points, and Taphorn and Lindsey each scored 11 points.
The win sent Northwestern to 9-2 on the season, with its lone losses coming against currently ranked Butler and Notre Dame teams. Two more non-conference games remain — against IUPUI and Houston Baptist — before the beginning of Big Ten play.