Pete Nance began his night against Minnesota in tears.
It was Senior Night at Welsh-Ryan Arena, and after Northwestern had honored two student managers, grad transfer Elyjah Williams and fellow senior Ryan Greer, it was Nance’s turn to take center stage. He walked to center court with his father, Larry, his mother, Jaynee and his sister, Casey. As he walked, he cried.
Nance clearly wanted to make the most of the moment. And he did just that. Once the pregame festivities ended and the game began, Nance was dominant from start to finish. By the game’s conclusion, the ‘Cats had walked away with a 75-62 victory, and Nance was a big reason why. He finished with 19 points on an efficient 8-for-14 shooting. He also pulled down 13 rebounds and swatted away three shots. On top of that, with what may be his final bucket in Welsh-Ryan Arena, he eclipsed the 1,000-point mark for his career, becoming just the 38th player to do so in Northwestern history.
“It’s really rewarding. There’s been a lot of hard work put in and there’s been a lot of people who have helped me along the way here,” Nance said on reaching 1,000 points. “I kind of think of it as our 1,000 points.”
Coming out of the gate on Senior Night, the ‘Cats were hot. Robbie Beran sank a few triples early in the first half, and just a few minutes in, Northwestern was out to a 27-9 lead while Minnesota was in panic mode. The two teams went back and forth a bit as the half continued on, but by the end of the first 20 minutes, NU had extended its lead to 20 points and led 46-26 at the break. Outside of Nance, Beran’s nine first half points were crucial to building that lead.
“He’s a key guy,” head coach Chris Collins said on Beran. “I thought his three point shooting really broke open the game early. He’s one of those guys where if he does that, now you start to have some of the offensive weaponry needed to compete with the best teams [in the conference].”
That offensive weaponry is something that the ‘Cats have lacked all season long. It has existed in short spurts, but had never been consistent enough for the Wildcats to win tough games. Something changed in the Minnesota game, though, as Northwestern caught fire in the first half and managed to keep its foot on the gas enough that its lead never dwindled below eight points in the second.
The scoring was also consistent across the roster. Through the first 20 minutes of action, seven players had etched their name into the scoring column, with four of those seven scoring at least six first half points. By the end of the game, nine of the 10 Wildcats who played against Minnesota scored at least once, with six of them scoring at least five points. Sure, the ‘Cats shot worse in the second half, but they never really let the Golden Gophers get back into the game.
That’s important to note as Northwestern heads down to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Tournament. Had the Wildcats lost to Minnesota, they would have found themselves in a rematch with the Golden Gophers on Wednesday in the first round of the tournament. With the win, the ‘Cats will now face the surprisingly red hot Nebraska Cornhuskers, who just travelled to Madison and took down No. 10 Wisconsin on Sunday. While Northwestern has beaten UNL twice this season, the Huskers have looked like an entirely different team over these past few games.
“They’re hot, they’re confident and they’ve always been dangerous,” Collins said about Nebraska. “It seems they’re all clicking right now, I had a chance to watch their game today [against Wisconsin]. These last few games, they’re playing free and they’re playing with confidence.”
But with the postseason now here, the Wildcats have some momentum, too, despite some late-season mishaps against Iowa and Penn State.
“I think we’re really excited. Obviously a win tonight helps our confidence,” Nance said on playing in the Big Ten Tournament. “We’re excited to have that opportunity and potentially make a run.”