In what was possibly the penultimate home game of his college career, Pete Nance reaped the rewards of a career’s worth of work.
“You put in a lot of hours in that gym,” he said, referring to Welsh-Ryan Arena. “It’s great to see it pay off on a night like tonight.”
Pay off it did, as Nance cashed in from the field, finishing with 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting, as well as five rebounds and five assists. The senior captain’s performance in Northwestern’s 77-65 win over Nebraska highlighted some of his greatest improvements he’s made as a player over the course of his four years in Evanston.
When Nance arrived ahead of the 2018-19 season, the expectations for him were high for a number of reasons. As the 88th-ranked player nationally in his class, he was — and still is — the highest-rated recruit to ever join the Wildcats, according to 247Sports. Then, of course, there was his last name, which tied him to the success of his father, Larry Nance Sr., a former three-time NBA All Star, and older brother, Larry Nance Jr., who is eight years into a fruitful stint of his own in the Association.
Needless to say, he didn’t immediately live up to the hype, no matter how unrealistic and facile it was to begin with. He appeared in 23 of the ‘Cats’ games in his freshman campaign, starting in just one while averaging just under three points a game in just under 13 minutes of average floor time.
“There were a lot of expectations on him early based upon his pedigree,” said Chris Collins, his coach throughout his years at NU. “He needed to get stronger, he needed to get better, he needed to get tougher. He needed to do a lot of things, and he’ll be the first one to tell you that.”
His sophomore season saw his minutes nearly double and his status rise from that of a rotational role player to a semi-regular starter, and with the promotion in playing time came some modest improvements in his game. His rebounding, assist and block totals all rose beyond the proportional adjustments expected given his rise in minutes, and, to a more modest degree, so too did his scoring. However, he still only contributed 8.5 points a showing during NU’s bugaboo 2019-20 stint.
Following a junior season in which he started every game he played and furthered his growth all-around, Nance had a particular focus in offseason that wound up elevating his game to another level.
“There were a lot of other parts of my game that I was working on in years past heavily, but I kinda added in three-point shooting a lot more,” he said postgame. “Just a lot of extra reps of that, and it’s been paying off for me.”
More noticeable than any other stride he’s made between this year and last, Nance’s enhanced ability from long range has been undeniable. In 2020-21, he hit 34.4 percent of his looks from downtown. This season, that figure has jumped nearly 10 points to 44.3 percent, bringing his true shooting percentage up to 58.5 percent from 41.5 percent, where it sat after his freshman campaign. That growth was on full display Tuesday night, when he set a new career-best with four threes on just five attempts from deep.
It’s not a forgone conclusion that Nance will depart at the end of this season, which seems likely to come for the Wildcats if or when they are bounced from the Big Ten Tournament. However, with his play catching the eye of several NBA Draft writers, it certainly wouldn’t come as a surprise if he forgoes the extra year of eligibility afforded to him by the NCAA’s pandemic-induced rule change. In the eyes of Collins, the shooting improvements he’s made have given him a shot to succeed at the next level.
“For him to be the guy that he wants to be, the way the game’s going, you have to be an elite shooter,” Collins said. “I give him a lot of credit, his work is paying off and he’s seeing the results in games.”