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What We Learned: Northwestern 65, Wake Forest 58

Bryant McIntosh’s second half heroics lead Wildcats to a win.

NCAA Basketball: ACC/Big Ten Challenge-Wake Forest vs Northwestern Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

After a rocky first half, it looked as though Northwestern was going to struggle to score on Wake Forest’s defense. But behind Bryant McIntosh’s emergence in the second half and stellar defensive play, Northwestern was able to win 65-58. Let’s see what we can take away.

What We Learned:

1. Gavin Skelly is becoming a difference-maker

Gavin Skelly averaged 12.5 minutes per game last season. This season, he’s averaging 17.8 so far. Collins said at the beginning of the season he was looking forward to Skelly making a real difference off of the bench this year and he’s done just that. He emerged against the zone in Friday’s game against Bryant and came out ready to play tonight. He finished with 11 points, 4 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals in 29 minutes tonight.

Skelly was the difference down the stretch at the end of the first half when not much else was working for Northwestern. He’s really stepped up in his last two games since Aaron Falzon has gone down.

2. Sanjay Lumpkin can be the "glue guy" on defense

Chris Collins always refers to Sanjay Lumpkin as his “glue guy” on defense. Lumpkin is known for being matched up against the opposing teams better players but in the past, he’s under-performed. He’s gotten sloppy and fouled players. Last year, he had moments, like against Wisconsin and Illinois, where his defense made a difference in the final minutes. Tonight, Northwestern wouldn’t have won without it. He stayed on John Collins for the final ten minutes of the game.

In that time, he had a steal, forced offensive fouls, he blocked shots, and he rebounded the ball on both ends. Northwestern needed his presence on the floor after Dererk Pardon and other players had struggled to guard him throughout the game. He played smart and was a difference maker when he really needed to be. He also sealed the win with back-to-back transition layups from Gavin Skelly in the final 22 seconds. He finished with 10 points, 3 assists, 7 rebounds (5 off, 2 def), 1 block and 3 steals in 33 minutes.

3. Bryant McIntosh is working through his shooting slump

Last night it looked like Bryant McIntosh was going to have another difficult night of shooting. Heading in to half time, he was 2-8 from the floor, and 0-1 from there with only one assist. In the second half, he went 8-8 in the paint 2-2 from three, and 1-2 from the charity stripe.

In the post game, he mentioned a turning point in the game right before he started to hit all of his shots. He got elbowed in the mouth by John Collins when he was trying to collect an offensive rebound. When he left the game to be tended to, students and fans in Welsh-Ryan chanted, “Patch him up! Patch him up!” McIntosh said that reminded him of a line from one of his favorite movies, “Hoosier” and ignited a big spark in him. After he came back in the game with 14:49 to go in the half, his run started and he was on fire.

McIntosh has had a up-and-down season so far. He and Collins both said he is a perfectionist on the floor and he gets down on himself when he doesn’t perform well. McIntosh is getting better at working out of his slumps. He got MVP chants in Welsh-Ryan and he’s getting national attention:

Overall

This game was easily one that Northwestern could have let get away. But the defense held down the stretch. For a Wake Forest team that averaged 90 points per game, it was impressive.

This team bounced back and they’re showing improvement. The success is attributed to key players stepping up in to roles: Gavin Skelly, Jordan Ash’s defense, Vic Law’s presence on the court, Sanjay Lumpkin’s defense, Scottie Lindsey’s growth and McIntosh’s job as facilitator. Northwestern has made a jump so far this season.

There’s no doubt about that.