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Northwestern holds on to beat Western Illinois

by Callie Counsellor (@CCounsellor)

Player of the game: Senior forward Nick Gendron, with 28 minutes left in the second half, took a cross from Henry Herrill and calmly launched it into the back of the net, giving Northwestern the 1-0 victory over Western Illinois in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night. “We always talk about, when a service is going to get in the box, just running to a space and hope the ball finds you,” Gendron said. “Henry made a great play to get that ball, put the service in. I was a little bit surprised with how much time I had. (I) just looked up, had no one around me, and fired a shot.”

Wild finish: Down by one with 18 seconds to play, Western Illinois took a corner kick and bounced it around in NU’s box. With seven seconds left, in one final desperate attempt, Western Illinois senior forward Nathan Bruinsma channeled Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic (seriously, watch this) and maneuvered a bicycle kick from 20 yards out. The shot went just wide right as time expired and the Wildcats escaped with the win.

Seniors get it right: The NU seniors played their third potential final home game at Lakeside Field, coming out with a win this time. Had the Cats not made the NCAA Tournament, their last home game would have been a 3-0 loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament. “After the Michigan game, the feeling after that game was horrible,” senior midfielder Chris Ritter said. “All the seniors, we looked at each other, and if that was how we were going to end out career playing at such an awesome stadium, that was going to really be a bummer. I’m really happy for our guys, our seniors, and really our whole team to be able to win our last game at home.”

Stat of the game: At halftime, NU held an 11-0 advantage in shots but the score was still tied 0-0. After halftime, the Cats had nine shots, making one of them. “We’re just trying to make plays,” coach Tim Lenahan said. “We got one goal in 19 shots. That’s not going to set any records for offensive efficiency but we got the goal and that’s really all that matters. These guys don’t care about my Tums that I need on the sideline when it’s 1-0. In fact, sometimes I think they do it on purpose, to be honest with you. The only time we have two goal leads, they become one goal leads just to make me nervous.”

What it means: The Cats improved to 6-1-1 in home NCAA Tournament games, all of them coming under Lenahan. Their last win at home in the Tournament was in 2009 against Notre Dame.

What’s next: The Cats head to Milwaukee, WI to take on No. 7 Marquette on Sunday. ““I think they’re very similar to us,” Lenahan said. “All of their pieces fit very well. Obviously we’re going to have to step it up a little bit.  Marquette’s not going to let us have the ball as much as we had it tonight but we played good teams all year and we’ve done pretty well against them.”