That’s certainly one way to end the decade.
Northwestern (5-7, 0-2 B1G) wasn’t able to overcome a spirited Hartford (7-7) team, and it led to another embarrassing mid-major defeat for Chris Collins’ young squad. Hartford’s Hunter Marks layup in the lane with 1.4 second to go gave the Hawks a one-point win in a game that they honestly deserved to win.
Miller Kopp was determined to not let his team suffer another embarrassing home loss, willing the Northwestern offense to points down the stretch. However, it wasn’t enough. The sophomore carried the Wildcats down the stretch, finishing the game with a career-high 24 points on 9-for-15 shooting. That marks the forward’s second consecutive 20+ game and third of the season.
Redshirt freshman Ryan Young had another strong game as well, battling inside for 14 points and getting to the free throw line at will. Boo Buie also added 14 points of his own for Northwestern.
For Hartford, a balanced attack was the squad’s method of attack, but Malik Ellison led the way with 16 points to go with seven rebounds and three assists.
As the game began, it became clear that the contest was about to follow a similar trajectory to some of Northwestern’s previous matchups with low mid-major opponents.
The demons of Merrimack and Radford were present throughout the game as the Hawks of Hartford presented NU with challenges on both ends of the floor, stifling the Wildcats’ offense and excelling at cracking a lethargic Northwestern defense.
Hartford capitalized on the perimeter, utilizing a 71 percent three-point percentage as well as three Northwestern fouls on shots from beyond the arc in the first half. The Hawks were also efficient from the floor in general, shooting at a 61 percent clip in the first half.
Northwestern on the other hand went in to the half shooting the three-ball at a 22 percent clip and shooting at a 36 percent rate from the field. Hartford took advantage of the shooting disparity and went in to the half leading the ‘Cats by six.
The Wildcats came out of the gates firing in the second half, going on an 8-2 run that evened the score. To the Hawks credit, though, they instantly responded with a three to take back the lead and show Northwestern that they would be going nowhere.
Hartford continued to pile on pressure for the young ‘Cats, and it became clear that Northwestern was in for yet another intense fight. The Hawks took a four point lead into the final ten minutes of the half as NU vied to keep its non-conference record above .500.
Buie and Kopp catalyzed a Northwestern run that brought them even with Hartford at 55 with only six minutes remaining in the contest. But as it had all game, Hartford responded with a bucket to regain the lead. This time, however, Kopp was able to drill a three that gave the ‘Cats their first lead of the second half.
An inspiring moment came with two minutes remaining, as Ryan Greer and Kopp flung themselves to the floor on defense, forcing a vital traveling violation from Hartford. A Kopp layup on the ensuing inbounds pass gave NU its largest lead of the afternoon at 66-61. That would be the last time Northwestern scored as the Hawks closed the game on a 6-0 run.
Hartford forced its way back into the game one more time, scoring two layups and finding two stops to create a possession for the Hawks down one with 15 seconds remaining. It looks like the refs may have erred on an out of bounds call down the stretch as the ball didn’t appear to touch Boo Buie last, but let’s be honest with ourselves, this was not the reason NU lost this game.
Either way, Marks capitalized with a layup, sending Northwestern back into conference play on an incredibly low note.
Next up for Northwestern is a trip to the Twin Cities for a meeting with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. We’ll have live coverage from Williams Arena next Sunday as the ‘Cats return to Big Ten action.