EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) The glimmer of space Bryant McIntosh spotted certainly wasn’t much, but he figured it would do.
McIntosh scored 20 points, three of which came on an acrobatic driving layup and free throw with 52 seconds remaining and Northwestern beat Fairfield 79-72 in a CBE Hall of Fame Classic game on Wednesday night.
McIntosh’s aggressive drive into the lane pushed Northwestern’s lead to eight points after Fairfield had pulled within three after trailing by double digits earlier in the second half.
”The way they called the game, I was just trying to create contact and get to the foul line, and I got all the way to the rim,” McIntosh said, who finished with five rebounds, five assists and four steals.
Aaron Falzon scored 13 points and Alex Olah added 11 to round out Northwestern’s (2-0) balanced scoring attack.
Marcus Gilbert led Fairfield (0-3) with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Curtis Cobb had 13 points for the Stags.
Trailing 68-65, Fairfield had a chance to tie the game with 1:41 remaining but Tyler Nelson’s 3-point attempt rimmed out. Northwestern pulled away from there, using late free throws to close out the victory.
”They made the plays down the stretch that they needed to,” Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson said. ”There was a point when we were getting stops, but we didn’t reward ourselves.”
Northwestern built a 16-point lead before Wildcats fouls allowed the Stags to get into the bonus and begin to chip away at the deficit. Fairfield kept pushing, getting to within single digits, testing Northwestern to protect its lead.
”All of a sudden 16 points goes to 14 to eight, and they started smelling that they’re in the game,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. ”There’s an enormous amount of game pressure when a team is a so-called underdog and all of a sudden they’ve got a lot of momentum and they’ve got nothing to lose.”
Fairfield pulled to 3 points, but the Stags finished with 14 turnovers – including 10 in the first half – and ran out of responses as Northwestern responded to close out the victory.
”We talk about how we have to fight,” McIntosh said. ”Teams are going to make runs. This is a game of runs and we just have to fight.”
Northwestern led 39-29 at halftime. The Wildcats, spurred by three early 3-point field goals by Falzon, led by as many as 13 points before Fairfield pulled to 29-24 with 3:29 left in the first half. But Northwestern center Joey van Zegeren scored six straight points to help push the lead back to double figures by the end of the half.
Northwestern: Aaron Falzon, the freshman forward from Newton, Massachusetts, reached double figures for the second time in as many games. … Falzon’s 20 points last week against UMass-Lowell was the most points scored by a first-year player in his college debut. … Following Friday’s game against Columbia, the Wildcats head to top-ranked North Carolina on Monday.
Fairfield: After Marcus Gilbert scored 25 points for the Stags in a 92-65 loss at North Carolina, the senior added a double-double in Wednesday’s loss. … After being outrebounded in its first two games against Yale and North Carolina, Fairfield collected 41 rebounds and was plus-8 in rebounding margin against the Wildcats.
The Northwestern bench was whistled for a technical foul with two seconds remaining. Collins said the explanation he was given was that his bench was standing up. After the explanation drew a few laughs, Collins replied, ”That’s the truth.”
Northwestern hosts Columbia on Friday.
Fairfield hosts Sacred Heart on Saturday.