In just over a minute, Bryant McIntosh turned a crumbling Wildcat lead into an all but assured victory.
After grabbing a 16-point advantage five minutes into the second half, Northwestern clung to a 68-65 point lead over the Fairfield Stags as the game wound down. But with 2:08 to play, McIntosh sunk a jump shot. A minute later, he reached full extension to nab a floating Stag outlet pass, dribbled up and drove his rebuilt 185-pound frame through three defenders for an and-one layup, putting the game out of reach.
McIntosh finished with 20 points, five assists, five rebounds and four steals as Northwestern (2-0) defeated the Stags (0-3) 79-72 on Wednesday night.
Carrying the momentum from Northwestern’s 47-point second half in Friday’s season opener, Aaron Falzon led the ‘Cats to an early lead. The four-star recruit hit three catch-and-shoot threes in the first four minutes. After McIntosh hit another from behind the arc at 8:41, Northwestern went ahead 27-14.
When the Stags charged back at the end of the first half, Joey van Zegeren shut them down in a breakout performance. With 3:34 left and the score 29-22, the transfer from Virginia Tech made a LeBron James-style block, slapping a Fairfield shot into the stands. Over the next two minutes, he made two free throw shots, a tip dunk and a jump shot. Northwestern entered halftime up 39-29.
“I thought van Zegeren's minutes were big,” coach Chris Collins said. “He had a lot of energy tonight.”
In foul trouble, McIntosh played only 12 minutes in the first half, but he lit up the second. Two three-pointers from the sophomore, along with one from Scottie Lindsey helped put the ‘Cats ahead 57-41 with 13 minutes to play.
But sloppy fouls and poor rebounding by the 'Cats nearly helped hand Fairfield the advantage. The Stags out-rebounded Northwestern 21-17 in the second half, leading to seven second chance points. Fourteen Northwestern fouls put Fairfield in position to make 17 free throw shots on 21 attempts, after the Stags had made zero in the first half.
With 11:50 remaining, the Stags went on an 16-6 run to cut NU's lead to 63-60. They were within striking distance of the Wildcats for the first time since the second minute of the game. That’s when McIntosh went on his run.
“Teams are going to make runs,” McIntosh said. “This is a game of runs and we just have to fight. The game is never over.”
McIntosh said he wanted to lead that fight.
“When we’re up I definitely want the ball,” McIntosh said. “And at the end of the game, when we’re up or down, I’m comfortable getting the ball.”