LINCOLN — Coming off 12 straight losses, Northwestern (7-21, 2-16 B1G) hoped to finally get a win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-22, 2-16 B1G), the last team the Wildcats beat back in January. Both teams came into the matchup desperate for a conference win, and it was the Wildcats who got to break their losing streak tonight in Lincoln in a hard-fought, overtime contest.
Northwestern was led by Miller Kopp, who notched 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting for his fifth-career 20-point effort. Haanif Cheatham paced the Huskers with 20 points on his senior day.
The real storyline of the game, though, may have been Nebraska’s struggles at the foul line. UNL shot an unbelievable 8-of-30 from the charity stripe. Northwestern, on the other hand, made 15 of its 20 free throw attempts.
Freshman guard Boo Buie and Pat Spencer both played excellent in the second half and the extra session to lift NU to its first win since January 11. The Atlanta native finished with 15 points, while the fifth-year senior added 12.
Buie did not play in the first matchup due to injury but made the start this time around. The first half began closely-contested, with both teams missing a decent amount of their shot attempts, including what could have been a highlight-worthy alley-oop from the freshman to Pat Spencer in transition.
Kopp was Northwestern’s first half leader on the offensive end. The sophomore sharpshooter caught fire early, drilling two quick deep balls to open up Northwestern’s lead early. He had another first half triple overturned with his toe barely on the line but still led all scorers at the break with 14 points.
A 9-0 scoring run for Northwestern roughly midway through the first half brought its lead to as big as nine, but the Cornhuskers were able to hang around thanks to some lazy man-to-man defense from NU.
In the last six minutes of the first half, both teams picked up offensively, making far more of their shots. Nebraska’s Cam Mack made two big shots from deep to cut Northwestern’s lead to only two around the 5:00 mark.
Despite trailing for nearly all of the first half, Nebraska had a golden chance to reclaim or at least tie the game, but the Cornhuskers clanked five free throw attempts off the rim in the final 45 seconds of the period to keep NU’s advantage at 37-34 heading into the locker room.
After the break, Nebraska came out aggressive, taking their first lead since early in the opening half. Northwestern was sloppy with the ball, committing five turnovers in first five minutes of the half. A Buie turnover led to a Nebraska fast break bucket that extended the UNL lead to 47-41.
Northwestern, led by Spencer, went on an 8-0 run to take a brief advantage before the teams went back and forth. The lead seesawed from the Wildcats to the Cornhuskers, until the ‘Cats — led by Spencer and Buie — were able to stretch the lead to six with just five minutes left.
However, Nebraska was able to rip off an 11-2 run to claim a two-point lead. After two free throws from Spencer knotted things up at 67, the Wildcats had a chance to hit a game-winning shot, but the former lacrosse star’s buzzer attempt fell short.
To start the deciding period, Kopp nailed a three to key a 7-0 run for the Wildcats. The Cornhuskers were able to pull within two in the final minute, but more missed free throws by Nebraska combined with Ryan Young sinking two of his own, put the Huskers and this long losing streak to bed.
NU, now in line for the 13-seed in the Big Ten Tournament by virtue of its head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over Nebraska, next travels to Madison to face Wisconsin on Wednesday.