EVANSTON, Ill. — In a game characterized by defense and physicality, Northwestern (2-0, 0-0 B1G) bested Northern Illinois (0-2, 0-0 MAC) 63-46 Friday night.
In addition to five rebounds and three blocks, Robbie Beran led NU in scoring with 15 points, with Boo Buie not too far behind with 13.
For the Huskies, it was the Keshawn Williams show. With a flurry of contested makes, the junior guard put up 19 points and three rebounds. David Coit also added nine points and four boards.
The ‘Cats got on the scoreboard first when a Buie drive created an open look in the paint for Beran, which he buried. The game was back-and-forth to start, with NIU playing sloppily, as it committed four fouls and gave up three offensive rebounds. However, the score remained close at the first media timeout, with the Wildcats holding a 11-8 advantage, in large part due to the play of Williams.
Beran was the hottest hand on the NU offense early. He had eight of the Wildcats’ 16 points at the under-12 timeout, including two deep-range efforts that found nylon. Additionally, sophomore Julian Roper II got his first minutes of the year after missing Northwestern’s opener against Chicago State. He quickly made his first bucket, a baseline floater, which put the ‘Cats up 19-13 with 11 minutes left in the half.
Both defenses began to step up, with Northwestern looking especially stout in its paint. Despite this, the Huskies seemed unwilling to shoot three-pointers, taking just two in the opening 12 minutes and change. Instead, they continually attempted, with varying degrees of success, tough shots around the rim. Even with the offense not looking its best, NU still had a 23-19 lead at the under-eight timeout.
Northwestern started to take control of the game out of the break. It went on a 9-4 run over the next five minutes, where Ty Berry picked up two steals and NIU’s only two baskets came from tough fadeaway jumpers. Williams, who ended the half with 15 points, single-handedly kept the ‘Cats within distance. But it was his counterpart, Buie, who ended the first period emphatically with a posterizing dunk, which put NU up 36-27 at the break.
The trend of NIU hitting low-percentage looks continued to start the second half, as Williams hit a fadeaway to open the scoring. However, after a Berry three at the other end, the Huskies broke their duck from behind the arc, as David Coit made the team’s first effort from long range of the game.
NIU then got to the charity stripe twice, making all four free throws, and the second trip to the line was a result of Beran committing his third foul of the game. That forced Chris Collins to sit the senior for a while. In his wake, Matt Nicholson stepped up, finishing at the rim on back-to-back possessions, with a block sandwiched in between. Huskies coach Rashon Burno called a timeout in response, with the ‘Cats up 47-36 with 13 and a half minutes remaining.
A Berry charge just before the under-12 timeout added to Northwestern’s foul trouble, as it had accumulated six just eight minutes into the half. Although they were down 48-38, there was a potential route back into the game for the Huskies via the foul line.
However, NIU didn’t need free throws, as a quick 5-0 run coupled with an aggressive half court press forced Collins to call his second timeout with just over ten minutes left. The ‘Cats continued to struggle from deep — shooting 21% up to this point — but a couple of Tydus Verhoeven layups, which extended the Wildcat lead back to nine, prevented a massive scoring drought.
Northern Illinois faced even greater offensive struggles up until the last media timeout of the half, and Northwestern capitalized, stringing out the score to 61-46. Buie also had his best production during this run, scoring seven points, the last three of which came on a slick stepback three.
The ‘Cats breezed through the last minutes, which were only significant to a certain population, of the contest, and kept their unbeaten record intact.
Northwestern’s next stop in its nonconference itinerary is a showdown with Georgetown in the nation’s capital at 5:30 p.m. CT on Tuesday, Nov. 15 on Fox Sports 1.