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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern topples Nebraska 62-57 to pick up first Big Ten win

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The boys did it.

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

EVANSTON — Northwestern entered the weekend without a conference win, but it will leave with a victory and some much-needed confidence after defeating Nebraska 62-57

The Wildcats didn’t make it easy on themselves down the stretch by failing to convert a field goal for the game’s final three and a half minutes, however, some timely defensive stops were enough to lift the ‘Cats to a crucial home victory.

A balanced scoring output led by Miller Kopp, Pat Spencer and A.J. Turner guided NU on the offensive end. The trio combined for 40 of Northwestern’s 62 total points . Freshman Robbie Beran also finished with a career-high 10 points of his own.

For Nebraska, a similar balanced effort was present. Cam Mack and Haanif Cheatham were the only ‘Huskers that entered double digits, but Kevin Cross and Matej Kavas both added nine a piece.

Northwestern exploded offensively in the first half, putting up 42 points that were highlighted by eight three-point field goals. NU, a team that shoots the three at a 31 percent clip, was 8-for-14 in the first half from deep and limited the Cornhuskers to 33 percent on the other end.

Spencer, Kopp and Turner all played 17 minutes in the first half, as Collins put an emphasis on keeping the players on the court that were performing. Entering the half, the ‘Cats led by 15, and there was a feeling that this could very well be the young team’s first Big Ten win.

But Nebraska came out of the gates raring to go in the second half, quickly cutting the Northwestern lead to just eight. Hoiberg’s team had a focus on pushing the pace in an effort to cut the deficit, and it worked to an extent, as the ‘Huskers took advantage of their edge in speed.

The ‘Cats responded to the energy surge by baiting Nebraska into consistent charging fouls and allowing the Cornhuskers to take three-pointers. Nebraska happily obliged, shooting a deluge of threes, but only a making few.

With eight minutes remaining, the Wildcats held a precious 12-point lead, and a raucous student section could taste a first Big Ten victory.

Northwestern continued to find quality looks on the offensive end and knocked down mid-range and long-range shots. It was an offensive blueprint that worked all day and capitalized on a lackadaisical Nebraska defense that struggled to get off screens and stay with shooters.

It seemed as though every time the ‘Huskers threatened to go on a run, Northwestern was able to quickly stifle it. For an inexperienced NU squad, it did an incredible job of sticking to the game plan and refusing to fall into late game struggles that have plagued them of late.

But the ‘Huskers wouldn’t go down without threatening to make NU’s late game issues prominent one again. Two successive triples brought Nebraska within six as just two and a half minutes remained.

On three successive offensive possessions, Northwestern missed the front end of one-and-one opportunities, and a banked three brought the ‘Huskers within three points with just under a minute remaining. After missing another shot, Nebraska had a chance to tie it, but Northwestern blocked Burke’s attempt. Miller Kopp iced the game with two free throws, and the ‘Cats got a W.

The Wildcats can celebrate this win for now, but they’re in for a quick turnaround as an Iowa team coming off a blowout upset win against Maryland heads to Evanston this Tuesday. Until then, Northwestern fans can take comfort in the fact that the ‘Cats are no longer by themselves at the bottom of the conference and can enjoy the company of fellow 1-4 Ohio State.