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After two close calls, Northwestern makes statement in romp over Rutgers

The 31-0 run put this game out of reach in the first half.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Northwestern vs Rutgers Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON, D.C. — It’s hard to do anything 31 times in a row.

When Vic Law hit a floater a few minutes into in Thursday night’s first half, it started an avalanche of scoring that would run — unimpeded — for almost 11 minutes. It began with Northwestern down by three to Rutgers and ended with the Wildcats holding a commanding 37-9 advantage.

The 31-0 run was the biggest in Northwestern — and Big Ten — history, and allowed the Wildcats to cruise through their 83-61 victory over the Scarlet Knights in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.

Both previous meetings between Northwestern and Rutgers this season were decided by less than 10 points. That was not the case for Thursday’s matchup, as the Wildcats set the tone with the early run and never looked back.

“It felt like we were clicking on all cylinders tonight,” Vic Law Jr. said.

Between that Law shot and the next Rutgers basket, a Nigel Johnson three-pointer, the Wildcats went off, forcing turnovers left and hitting high percentage shots right. It was a beatdown.

“We always talk about four-minute segments, and we try to win each of those segments,” Scottie Lindsey said. “We emphasized that we wanted that segment. Our defense really helped us.”

Bryant McIntosh shared Lindsey’s sentiment, mentioning how the initial defensive energy the Wildcats had wasn’t what they wanted. It’s fair to say that changed during that 10:57 of action.

The Wildcats needed a huge second half to put Rutgers away when the teams played in Piscataway back in January. In the matchup at Welsh-Ryan, the Scarlet Knights — the sixth-worst team at the charity stripe in the nation — had to miss half their free throws attempts and give up a backbreaking Bryant McIntosh three to lose a game they led with three minutes left to play.

Neither was necessary on Thursday.

“Our defense led to a lot of turnovers and runouts,” Lindsey added. “Because we were running so hard and sharing the ball, we made a lot of good shots.”

The Wildcats played up to the big stage and laid the knockout blow early on. It made for a stress-free second half, which was helpful with a quarterfinal game against Maryland set for Friday.

Law was great, scoring a team-high 12 points in the first half and 16 for the game (on 5-of-6 shooting). It felt like that early-season stretch when Law was 11-of-14 from three-point range in the first few nonconference games. He was spotting up in the corners to drill open threes created by the Wildcats’ swarming defense and ball movement.

Northwestern scored 14 points off 10 Rutgers’ turnovers in the opening half alone. The Scarlet Knights, on the other hand, had just 24 total points at the break.

It wasn’t just Law, though, and the Wildcats did much more on offense than crush Rutgers on the perimeter. Dererk Pardon continued his hot offensive stretch with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting and helped limit the country’s 10th best offensive rebounding team to eight offensive boards.

“I thought we got contributions from a lot of guys, which is when we're at our best,” Chris Collins said. “Balanced scoring, a lot of assists. When we do that, we're a pretty good team.”

Despite struggling from beyond the arc, Scottie Lindsey got back to form with 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting. He also lobbed a gorgeous alley-oop feed from just past the three-point line to a soaring Law, who threw down a thunderous dunk. That was also a part of the 31-0 run, which spanned multiple media timeouts and 14 Rutgers missed field goals.

The stars were also out at the Verizon Center, as various famous Northwestern alums — from Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Brad Hall to Christine Brennan to NBC News’ Peter Alexander — cheered on the Wildcats in Section 121, along with Northwestern president Morton Schapiro and athletic director Jim Phillips.

Charlie Hall, with the game well out of reach late in the second half, even checked into the game, much to the joy of his parents and seemingly every other Northwestern fan at the game. But, he didn’t get the chance to get on the scoreboard for the time in his collegiate career, as Nathan Taphorn took and made a three instead of passing to Hall.

“I think some of us were a little upset with Tap,” Bryant McIntosh joked. “We're glad he hit the shot, but we would have liked to get the ball to Charlie.”

When asked about the play, McIntosh, Law and Collins all chuckled at the postgame press conference. The game having been decided far before, they could afford to worry about such trivial matters with time winding down.

That was a welcome change.