EVANSTON – The venue has been there for decades, but it has never looked as good as it does now on Northwestern’s campus.
The newly renovated Welsh Ryan Arena is fresh and modernized for a new era of Wildcats’ basketball in which the men’s basketball is looking for a second NCAA Tournament appearance instead of their first as they’ve done most of their programs history.
On Tuesday night, they were awfully close to getting a defining moment in the first month of the arena’s use. It was part of a “close but no cigar” start to the Big Ten season for the Chris Collins’ team.
The Wildcats erased a 15-point lead against fifth-ranked Michigan at Welsh Ryan Arena and traded the lead down the stretch against the Wolverines. But the effort came up just a bit short, despite the best efforts of Dererk Pardon and Vic Law, as Michigan won it 62-60 to stay undefeated.
Pardon led the Wildcats with 20 points while Law had 19, with each giving Northwestern the lead a few times in the second half. But Jordan Poole’s dunk in the final minute gave Michigan the lead, and Ryan Taylor’s last-second three-pointer was no good as Northwestern dropped yet another heartbreaker in the early Big Ten schedule.
On Saturday the Wildcats came close to knocking off Indiana on the road, again with big efforts from Law and Pardon. The latter had 24 points while the former had 16 as Northwestern went toe-to-toe with the Hoosiers at Assembly Hall.
Yet it wasn’t enough again, as Indiana built a lead late then held off the Wildcats, and another three-point try from Taylor, to pull out the win.
It puts a bit of a damper on a 6-1 start to the non-conference season for Collins, who is hoping to get the momentum of the 2017 NCAA Tournament appearance back this season. Playing their entire home schedule at Allstate Arena along with inconsistent play saw the Wildcats slip to 15-17 with a 6-12 record in conference.
With the help of Law and Pardon, Northwestern already looks like a different team. If only a few breaks would have gone their way, and they’d be sitting at the top of the Big Ten.