It may not have been pretty, but the ‘Cats got the job done to wrap up their best start to a season since 2016-17.
In its final non-conference game of the regular season, Northwestern (10-2, 1-0 B1G) overcame Brown (7-6, 0-0 Ivy), 63-58.
NU was powered by Chase Audige, who tallied 24 points plus an assist and two rebounds. Boo Buie added 15 points of his own along with four assists. On the other side, Kino Lilly Jr. led the all Bears with 17 points, while Paxson Wojcik chipped in with 13, all coming from behind the arc or free throw line.
It may not have been the only reason they won, but a huge factor in the Wildcats’ win was the difference at the charity stripe. Northwestern was a stellar 19-of-21 from the line, while Brown — the second-worst free-throw-shooting team in the country — was just 11-for-22. Neither team shot particularly well from the field, as the Bears had the ‘Cats beat with a 42.2% rate compared to a 34.5% clip for NU.
A Ty Berry baseline jumper got the ‘Cats on the board first, but in the early stages of the game, NU’s offense faltered, making just three of its first 10 efforts from the field. A couple of Lilly Jr. three-point efforts at the other end for Brown meant the two teams were knotted at eight at the first media timeout.
Julian Roper provided a spark off the bench out of the break, getting a steal and dunk in the ensuing transition, but also committed two quick offensive fouls before the 12-minute mark. Berry added Northwestern’s first three of the game, but it was immediately cancelled out by Wojcik burying one of his own for Brown, making it a 14-13 lead in favor of the Bears.
After another Brown three-pointer found nylon, NU responded with an 8-0 run to give itself a 21-17 lead. Northwestern forced four turnovers from the Bears and Audige made the ‘Cats’ second shot from beyond the arc in 11 attempts in that span. Lilly Jr. ended his team’s scoring drought with another three, and with NU once again struggling offensively, Brown garnered a narrow 24-23 advantage heading into the final media timeout of the half.
The two teams matched each other’s pace up to the halfway point of the game, and a Nana Owusu-Anane dunk for Brown with the game clock expiring maintained the Bears’ one-point lead heading into the half at 31-30.
Out of the break, both offenses continued the way they had started in the first half — with lots of turnovers and missed shots. Audige was the exception, making a fadeaway midrange attempt, which got him to 1000 career collegiate points, and then making a nice cut to get a wide-open layup the following possession, putting the ‘Cats up 37-34.
The senior guard continued to assert his will on the contest, making a pair of free throws before drawing and converting an and-one on both sides of the under-12 timeout, extending Northwestern’s lead to seven. His backcourt partner, Buie, then went on his own personal 5-0 run, including his first made three-pointer of the game following misses on his first five attempts. Brown coach Mike Martin was forced into taking a timeout, as NU’s lead reached 11, its largest of the game.
Both teams began to trade blows, and Brown was able to claw the deficit back to single-digits at the under-eight timeout and down to seven at the final media timeout of the half, with the Wildcats up 55-48.
From there, the two offenses were grounded to an absolute standstill, with Northwestern going over four minutes without recording a point before Matt Nicholson finished off a Buie alley oop. Brown then embarked on a similar scoring drought at the worst possible time, and NU was able to close out the game from the free throw line.
The ‘Cats will look to extend their five-game win streak into conference play, which begins with Ohio State stopping by Welsh-Ryan on Sunday, Jan. 1 at 6:30 p.m. CT on Big Ten Network.