INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The first half may have been ugly, but the second half was impressive.
Northwestern may have been down 14 heading into the locker room at halftime, but that didn’t stop the ‘Cats from flying back and defeating Nebraska 71-69.
Pete Nance led the way for the Wildcats, finishing with 14 points and eight rebounds. Boo Buie added 16 points of his own on 4-of-11 shooting. For Nebraska, Alonzo Verge Jr. and Derrick Walker did major damage, finishing with 21 and 16 points, respectively.
The Wildcats won the tip, but Julian Roper missed a three on their opening possession. Nebraska went the other way and Derrick Walker made a contested layup to open the game’s scoring.
There weren’t many points to speak of early on, as Northwestern began the game 0-for-4 from the field, but the Cornhuskers largely failed to capitalize. Roper got the scoring going for the ‘Cats about two and a half minutes in when Pete Nance found him cutting to the rim. A few plays later, Roper nailed a three to make the score 6-5 Nebraska heading into the first media timeout.
Nance made two free throws out of the break to give Northwestern its first lead of the game at 7-6. The scoring picked up a bit from there, with both Chase Audige and Ty Berry making triples. The Cornhuskers battled back, however, hitting a few free throws of their own to keep the game within one around the midway point of the first half.
Not long after, though, the ‘Cats went cold and the Huskers heated up. UNL ripped off a quick 7-0 run to go up 17-13 while Northwestern was unable to stop turning the ball over. The ‘Cats ended a four-minute scoring drought when Robbie Beran sank 1-of-2 from the free throw line.
Northwestern kept it somewhat close as the first half went on, but the turnovers weren’t helping one bit. The Wildcats uncharacteristically turned the ball over seven times in the first 12 and a half minutes of play, and finished the first period with a whopping 10 turnovers.
As time went on, Northwestern went on another scoring drought, which became a common theme of the first half. The drought lasted two and a half minutes before Nance made a fadeaway jumper to cut Nebraska’s lead down to five.
Things just kept going wrong for the ‘Cats. With just over five minutes left in the first half, Nance picked up his second foul. Seconds later, Alonzo Verge Jr. cut to the basket to make it 29-20 Nebraska. On the next possession, a cutting Walker was fouled by Audige and hit the layup. He proceeded to put UNL up 12 after making the foul shot.
The Wildcats continued to struggle, allowing the Huskers to go on a 15-2 run over the course of several minutes. Elyjah Williams buried a three to end another four-minute drought, but Nebraska remained in control at the end of the half, leading 39-25.
To open the second half, Nance found an open Audige at the top of the key, who drained a three. One possession later, the Wildcats cut Nebraska’s lead to single digits on a layup by Buie. That wouldn’t last long, though, as Trey McGowans made two free throws to push UNL’s lead back to 10. From there, the scoring went back and forth, and the Huskers led 50-39 with just under 15 minutes left to play.
After a break, Northwestern switched into a 3-2 zone in an attempt to slow down UNL’s red-hot offense. It did the job, as the ‘Cats were able to force some turnovers and cut Nebraska’s lead down to six points. Nebraska’s Walker was then hit with a technical foul, and Buie sank both free throws to make it a 50-46 game. Buie proceeded to hit a three, capping a 14-0 Northwestern run over just under three minutes of play, and forcing Fred Hoiberg to burn a timeout to stop the bleeding.
Hoiberg’s strategy worked for a moment, as Verge nailed a floater to end the Cornhuskers’ scoring drought following the stoppage. The scoring slowed on both sides for a bit before Casey Simmons found himself open for a putback layup. Ryan Young got his name in the scoring column a few plays later, making it a one point game once again.
It seemed that the Huskers weren’t going to roll over, as they quickly stretched their lead back out to five points. Young added one more bucket before the seven minute mark, leaving Nebraska with a 60-57 lead down the stretch.
After two free throws by the Huskers, Nance drilled a three on the other end to make it 62-60, and a minute later, Buie converted on a three of his own to give Northwestern its first lead since the score was 13-10. UNL managed to retake the lead via two more free throws, but a few possessions later, Young converted a layup through a foul. He failed to convert the free throw, keeping the Northwestern lead at one point. With 3:48 to play, the ‘Cats led 66-64.
As time dwindled down, the game remained close. Chris Collins took timeout with 1:54 to play and the Wildcats up by one. At that point, the Huskers hadn’t made a field goal in nearly seven minutes. Buie drained a three out of the break to extend Northwestern’s lead to four points, forcing Hoiberg and Co. to call a timeout of their own.
It wasn’t over yet, though. Bryce McGowans made a layup after the pause, making for Nebraska’s first field goal in nearly eight minutes. The next possession, the Huskers knotted the game at 69 after Verge made two free throws. A missed Audige shot looked like the Cornhuskers would be getting the ball back, but the rebound careened out to Roper, and Collins promptly took timeout with 32 seconds to play.
The ‘Cats drew up a play for Nance, but after he failed to get a good look, he passed it off to Audige, who drove into a lane and drove what was called as a blocking foul. The foul was reviewed and confirmed, and Audige proceeded to make 1-of-2 free throws. Verge went the other way and immediately drove into the lane, but Buie stepped in and drew a charge. Buie was then fouled on the inbounds and made 1-of-2 free throws. With just seven seconds left, Trey McGowans drove the other way, but was met by Beran at the rim. The ball bounced around for the final few seconds and Northwestern walked away with a 71-69 victory.
With this win, the ‘Cats will move on to face the five-seeded Iowa Hawkeyes tomorrow at 1 p.m. CT. You can catch the action on Big Ten Network.