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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern collapses down the stretch against Purdue, falls 61-58

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The Wildcats had an eight point lead with four minutes to play. It didn’t hold up.

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

EVANSTON — It’s all too familiar at this point.

Northwestern (6-15, 1-9 B1G) built a lead and fan optimism in the first half, only to crumble under the pressure in the final moments, falling to Purdue (12-10, 5-6 B1G) 61-58 in heartbreaking fashion.

Sasha Stefanovic was the hero for the Boilermakers, hitting the game-winning three-pointer with 3.1 seconds left after Purdue faced an eight point deficit with 4:34 left to play.

Both teams got off to disgustingly slow starts, with the ‘Cats leading 5-2 at the first media timeout. Purdue began shooting 2-11 from the floor and Northwestern turned the ball over four times in the first eight minutes of play.

Don’t mistake any of that for stout defense; the vast majority of it was simply bad offense. Sloppy passing and missed open shots plagued the early moments of this game for both teams.

The scoring eventually picked up with a couple of big threes from Pete Nance and Miller Kopp, putting the Wildcats up four with seven minutes to play in the first half. Not long after, Northwestern caught fire, finishing 6-8 from the field, with Kopp leading the ‘Cats at the half with nine points on 3-5 shooting.

On the other side of the ball, it was Purdue’s Eric Hunter Jr. and Isaiah Thompson who finally sparked the offense, combining for five triples and 17 of the Boilermakers’ 25 first half points. All in all, Northwestern led 29-25 at the break, shooting 11-23 from the field as a team.

Foul shots were few and far between, as neither team recorded a free throw in the first 17 minutes of play. That said, Robbie Beran, Ryan Young and Jared Jones all recorded two first half fouls, forcing the ‘Cats to move to a smaller line-up in the closing minutes of the first half.

Purdue wasted no time eliminating its four point halftime deficit, going on a 7-0 run out of the gate. Evan Boudreaux drained a deep three to give the Boilermakers the lead, and an and-one layup by Jahaad Proctor brought the once silent away crowd to life.

Then Boo Buie happened.

In just over a minute, the freshman hit three deep balls, capped off by a pull-up in transition that sent the Wildcat faithful into a frenzy, and put the ‘Cats up 42-35 with 15 minutes to play.

Purdue managed to keep pace thanks to Trevion Williams, who consistently found success in the post, starting 3-3 from the field in the first 10 minutes of play, and putting in a nice hook shot to cut the ‘Cats lead to six.

Suddenly, the shaky offense that plagued the game’s beginning returned. The ‘Cats went cold from beyond the arc, missing five threes in a row after hitting nine of their first 16. However, they weren’t alone, as the Boilermakers hit just one of seven shots from the field in a three and a half minute span.

The Boilermakers finally ended a near seven minute field goal drought with a layup from Hunter. Before Northwestern even knew what hit them, Purdue had cut the ‘Cats lead to three to give themselves a fighting chance. With just 53 seconds to play, Proctor nailed a contested three for Purdue, tying the game at 58.

With the shot clock ticking away, the ball landed in the hands of Ryan Young, who was promptly stripped. The ball landed out of bounds and was initially given to Northwestern, but after an official review, was handed to Purdue. The Boilermakers dribbled down the court and called timeout, setting up the Stefanovic game-winner.

Each team was led by a three-man scoring combo. For the ‘Cats, Miller Kopp, Boo Buie and Pat Spencer finished with 15, 12 and 10 points respectively, while Williams, Hunter and Thompson poured in 13, 13 and 11 for the Boilermakers.

Stefanovic, the hero, finished with just six points on just 2-7 shooting. Meanwhile, Northwestern failed to score in the final four and half minutes of play.

The ‘Cats have a week-long hiatus until their game next Sunday, when they travel to Piscataway to take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.