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Men’s basketball post-mortem, March: A few surprises, a quick exit

That tournament game was ugly, huh?

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament- Minnesota vs Northwestern Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

It’s March. New beginnings! Madness is in the air, like the fact that the ‘Cats just ended their 13-game losing streak with a win at Minnesota. Can they keep the momentum going? All previous evidence points to no.

*checks notes*

*double checks notes*

*takes out a diamond-encrusted magnifying class with a “Long Live Carmody” inscription on the handle and peers over the KenPom box score results*

They kept their momentum going! After that painful streak came to an end on the road against the Golden Gophers, the Wildcats returned home to face a Maryland squad that had won five straight.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, Northwestern got off to a slow start, as they trailed 9-0 at the first media timeout. The Wildcats’ first bucket of the game didn’t come until the 15 minute mark of the first half when Pete Nance dropped in an easy layup. That seemed to spark the offense a bit. Combine said spark with a Terrapin scoring drought, and all of a sudden the score was 9-8.

It was a game of runs and droughts, like so many Northwestern men’s basketball fiascos in the 2021 season. Fortunately for the ‘Cats, however, they were the ones making the runs for once, with Maryland going on multiple scoring droughts throughout this game. In the end, the Wildcats forced 15 turnovers out of the Terrapins, and while Aaron Wiggins posted a game-high 26 points for the Terps, the ‘Cats walked away with a 60-55 victory, closing the game out in anxiety-ridden fashion.

The next challenge came in the form of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. It was Senior Day at Welsh-Ryan Arena, and Nebraska arrived in Evanston as the worst team in the Big Ten, sitting at 3-15 in the conference and 7-18 overall.

Many expected the Wildcats to pull out the win on Senior Day, and early on, that appeared to be the case. Northwestern managed to jump out to a 27-11 lead with seven minutes left in the first half. Heading into the break, the ‘Cats were still up by nine. A bit of a slip, but still comfortable.

However, to the non-sarcastic shock of many, the lead was not safe for this Northwestern men’s basketball team.

The Wildcats scored their first points of the half on a Miller Kopp jumper, but from there, the Cornhuskers took over. UNL scored eight points in a minute, and all of a sudden, NU led by just three at the 18:29 mark.

To put it simply, the ‘Cats couldn’t stop Kobe Webster. The senior guard put up 23 points for the Cornhuskers, during which he shot an absurd 7-of-12 from beyond the arc. Webster averaged just over eight points per game during the season, but was a big part in why the Huskers were in this particular game late.

Fast forward through the second half and Nebraska led 78-77 with one minute left. It was back and forth in the final minute, with neither team scoring a point until a missed Nance hook shot fell into Ryan Young’s lap, who promptly scored a put-back layup with 2.7 seconds to go. Nebraska failed to scored on their final possession and Northwestern limped away with a 79-78 win.

The thrilling victory over the Cornhuskers managed to vault the Wildcats over Minnesota for the No. 12 seed in the Big Ten tournament. Regardless of seeding, however, NU’s opponent was already known. They’d have yet another date with the Golden Gophers.

Entering the Big Ten tournament, the Wildcats had won three straight. Meanwhile, Minnesota had dropped seven games in a row. You know how the saying goes: two Big Ten bottom feeders trending in opposite directions will always make for beautiful basketball.

Yet, somehow, this game defied that saying. In fact, it ended up being rock fight. The beginning of this game largely mirrored the Wildcats’ previous victory at Minnesota in late February, with the Gophers building a quick 16-2 lead in the first 11 minutes of action.

It was now time for the ‘Cats to mount a comeback. However, it wasn’t a sprint, it was a marathon. At halftime, Minnesota led 27-20. They still led by six at the 12-minute mark of the second half. It wasn’t until 9:03 was left in regulation when Northwestern tied it up on a Nance three pointer. Two minutes later, the ‘Cats had their first lead of the game on a Kopp layup.

Win secured, right?

Actually no. With 4:20 left in the second half, Northwestern led 46-39. The Wildcats wouldn’t score another point for the rest of the game as they watched the Golden Gophers go on a 15-0 run in the final four minutes and walk away with a stunning victory. The ‘Cats shot a meager 31% from the field in the loss, and with that, their win streak and season were brought to a disappointing end.