Coming into their game against the Cornhuskers yesterday, the ‘Cats were a mere three-and-a-half point favorites in Las Vegas.
That pregame line was understandable. Nebraska had home court advantage and nobody really knew how Northwestern would bounce back from throwing away a 24-point lead before squeaking out an overtime win over Rutgers.
We all soon found out though, as the Wildcats dominated the Huskers from start to finish. The real NU took an early lead in the first half and never looked back, largely due to the stellar performance of Boo Buie, who finished with 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting. He was 6-of-11 from three.
“Needless to say, this was a big win for us today. We knew we were going to face a hungry team today, it was an important game for our guys,” head coach Chris Collins said. “I thought Boo was tremendous. We were able to get him some clean looks early to get going from three and then he was able to get downhill and drive the ball really well.”
Buie wasn’t the only player to lead the ‘Cats, of course. Chase Audige ended up as NU’s second-leading scorer with 16 points. He was also assigned to cover Nebraska’s stud freshman Bryce McGowens, whom Audige limited to just 10 points on 2-of-8 shooting, with the majority of his points coming from the free throw line. McGowens came into the game averaging over 17 points per game.
“I thought Chase was fantastic,” Collins said. “The job he did on Bryce McGowens, who in my opinion was as hot as any player in the conference coming into the game, I thought Chase did a great job making him take tough ones. You’re not going to shut him out, he’s still got 10 points, but I thought we did a good job of not letting him take over the game.”
Northwestern’s guard play can’t be talked about enough. In addition to Buie and Audige, Ryan Greer had a tremendous performance against the Huskers, finishing with seven points and four assists in 18 minutes. On top of that, Ty Berry shot 3-for-5 from beyond the arc. It was a somewhat quiet game for Pete Nance and Ryan Young, who had eight and 12 points, respectively. At the end of the day, though, that didn’t matter one bit.
“I expected it to be a really close game. I mean, if you look at our scores, that’s all we do is play close games,” Collins said. “The thing I was really proud of was we hit the 10 threes in the first half, and that gave us the separation. Anytime you can hit double figure threes and couple it with some really good defense, that’s really important.”
The threes were crucial, there’s no doubt about that. Like Collins said, though, all Northwestern does is play close games. The Wildcats’ 24-point margin of victory over the Huskers is something that likely won’t be seen again this season given NU’s remaining schedule. However, through a combination of great shooting and some poor play from UNL, it’s something the team got to experience, and that matters.
Sure, Nebraska is last in the Big Ten in record, sitting at 6-17 and 0-11 in Big Ten play after its loss to the ‘Cats. The Cornhuskers are also last in the Big Ten when it comes to KenPom ranking, having fallen to No. 184 after losing to NU. For reference, the second to last Big Ten team in terms of KenPom ranking is Maryland at No. 90. With all that in mind, the Huskers are also a team that almost knocked off Michigan four days prior, and have played a plethora of teams close at home this season.
To put it simply, Northwestern’s win over Nebraska was a confidence booster. It could get the ‘Cats out of their rut. And now, with just eight games remaining, the ones coming up are beginning to feel a little more important.
“[It was a] really good win for us. We were able to string together two wins together here this week,” Collins said. “Every game in the Big Ten matters, and to come on the road and get a road win was really good. I’m really proud of my team.”