Northwestern (3-0) escaped with a victory over heavy underdog New Orleans (1-2) on Tuesday night, pulling away late to win 83-67 behind senior forward Pete Nance’s 18 points and four blocks.
It was a hard night offensively for head coach Chris Collins’ team, but Nance and sophomore guard Ty Berry’s play put the ‘Cats up late and helped them pad the lead in the waning minutes of play. Berry kept up his strong start to the season with 17 points, shooting 5-for-9 from beyond the arc.
The Privateers did not make it easy, though. Senior guard Derek St. Hilaire finished the game with 27 points of his own to continuously keep his team in the game.
Similar to its win over High Point, Northwestern began the game struggling offensively. The Wildcats went 0-for-3 from three in the first minute and a half of play, but two easy buckets from freshman guard Casey Simmons put the ‘Cats on the board. In the first five minutes, Northwestern committed three turnovers and shot a mere 1-for-5 from downtown.
Despite the struggles scoring, Northwestern found success early on in its defensive performance. New Orleans only managed to score eight points through the game’s first seven minutes while shooting 4-for-11 with four turnovers. Northwestern converted these miscues into seven points in the first nine minutes.
But while New Orleans was hard pressed to score, so too were the ‘Cats. Collins’ squad put up just 16 points off of 7-for-18 shooting and 2-for-9 from three in the first 10 minutes of the contest.
As both teams continuously missed shots, Northwestern led by only one, 21-20, with 8:11 remaining in the half. Poor shot selection and some strong defensive plays from both sides made this one feel eerily similar to NU’s last game against a lackluster High Point squad in which it only led by one at half.
As Northwestern’s offense looked to be finding itself off of a 7-0 run, St. Hilaire would not let the Privateers die. He rattled off eight straight points, and the Privateers found themselves leading Northwestern at the break, 37-35. The senior guard put up 18 points off of 8-for-15 shooting in the first half.
Meanwhile, Northwestern finished the period 0-for-5 from the field and scored just two points in the final 4:40 of the half on two converted free throw attempts from Ryan Greer. Overall, the ‘Cats shot 13-for-35 from the field and 5-for-18 from three in the first. Nance and Berry carried the load offensively with 11 and eight points, respectively.
The second half began with more of the same: St. Hilaire made plays and Northwestern played sloppy offense. Quickly, UNO extended its lead to nine and had a clear hunger to win that Northwestern did not match.
A big play from Ryan Young changed that. The redshirt-junior put his defender on a poster for a dunk and drew a foul in the process. After Young converted on the three-point play, the ‘Cats forced a turnover off of a sloppy pass by UNO that turned into a mid-range make from Nance. It felt as though Collins’ team woke up.
Suddenly, Nance was blocking shots. Boo Buie was diving for loose balls. Greer continued to make shots. Northwestern went on a 10-2 run that spanned over four minutes and clawed its way back to being down only one, 48-47. In that span, the Privateers shot 0-for-7 from the field.
Midway through the second half, Northwestern trailed 52-51 as both sides traded shots back and forth to recapture the lead.
Robbie Beran threw down a second-chance dunk. St. Hilaire hit a reverse layup. Berry hit a wide-open three. With 8:17 left, Northwestern had regained the lead 58-57.
Trading shots once again to stay up 60-59, Berry forced a jump ball from UNO’s Troy Green that gave the ‘Cats the ball, then proceeded to hit his fourth three-pointer of the game to widen Northwestern’s lead to 63-59. Following a Privateer miss, Beran hit his first three of the game to extend the lead to seven.
With just over four minutes left to play, a sequence unfurled that made it clear no upset would take place tonight. Nance blocked a shot attempt from St. Hilaire, and Buie ran it down to half court and gave Nance a perfectly aimed alley-oop, which he slammed down over a defender. To top it off, the senior big man blocked his fourth shot of the night after.
From there, the Wildcats didn’t look back. A pair of threes from Berry and Buie gave Northwestern a 78-65 lead with 2:25 left. Nance continued to punish the rim with another monster dunk, and Northwestern eventually prevailed, 83-67.
The ‘Cats remain undefeated, albeit with a fair share of nerves, and face Elyjah Williams’ former squad Fairleigh-Dickinson on Thursday at 8 p.m. at Welsh-Ryan Arena.