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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern falls 65-62 to Rutgers in heartbreaker

The ‘Cats fought all the way back but couldn’t seal the deal.

@NUMensBball on Twitter.

In one of the biggest home games in recent memory for the Northwestern men’s basketball program, the Wildcats were right there — until the very end.

Northwestern (12-4, 3-2) lost a shattering stunner to Rutgers (12-5, 4-2) 65-62 in a matchup of two teams receiving votes in the latest AP Poll. The ‘Cats were led by their trio of great guards: Boo Buie, Chase Audige and Ty Berry. The three combined for 38 points and 10 assists, as well as five of Northwestern’s 10 three-pointers.

As for the Scarlet Knights, they were led by a career day from Cam Spencer, who hit six of his seven three point shots en route to 23 points. Paul Mulcahy also provided an offensive spark for the visitors from New Jersey, scoring 12 points and chipping in six assists.

After Rutgers won the opening tip to a chorus of boos, Northwestern’s swarming defense stymied the Scarlet Knights. Matt Nicholson got a block to end the first Rutgers possession, but Spencer knocked one in from downtown on the next trip down. The student section provided a lot of energy early, and the arena went ballistic when Boo Buie knotted up the score at three points apiece less than three minutes in.

Rutgers quickly transitioned to attacking the basket, and earned layups on three consecutive possessions to take a 9-5 lead. Both teams were making life very difficult for the opposing offenses, but a Rutgers miscue led to a Nicholson dunk that cut the lead to 3 points with 13 minutes to go in the half.

Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they rewarded a miscue with a miscue, allowing Rutgers’ resident giant Clifford Omoruyi to get an easy and-one dunk. Omoruyi couldn’t convert at the line, but the lead was still five points for Rutgers — until Buie hit Tydus Verhoeven with a no-look dime to push the deficit back to three points.

Following a media timeout, Rutgers finally missed consecutive shots, but Northwestern couldn't take advantage as Verhoeven missed a jumper. The Scarlet Knights immediately made him pay, with Aundre Hyatt knocking in the team’s third three-pointer of the game to stretch the lead to 19-11. Just over halfway through the first half, Rutgers was 3-for-4 from beyond the arc, while Northwestern was just 1-for-6.

Ty Berry finally broke a four-minute scoring drought with a jumper to trim the deficit to 6 with just over 8 minutes to go in the half, but Spencer hit his second three-pointer of the game to break a similar drought for Rutgers with six and a half minutes to play in the half.

With under five minutes to go, Northwestern compounded another offensive drought with a technical foul on Chase Audige for flopping. Buie finally broke a field goal lull of over four minutes when he slithered into the paint and drilled a floater with 3:59 to go.

Both teams struggled to shoot for much of the first half, but the Wildcats picked it up from deep late, hitting a pair of three-pointers in the closing minutes to cut the deficit to 29-24, which is where the score sat at the half.

The Scarlet Knights were led by Spencer and Mulcahy, who combined for 13 points and 6 rebounds in the half. As for Northwestern, the wing trio of Buie, Audige and Berry scored 20 of their 24 first-half points on a combined 7-for-17 shooting. Except for better shooting from Rutgers, the two teams were almost dead even statistically through the first half.

The ‘Cats traded close shots with Rutgers to open the half, but consecutive Scarlet Knights turnovers led to Northwestern cutting the deficit to just two points. The intensity on the court was palpable, with bodies on the floor on nearly every possession, yet a huge Rutgers offensive board led to yet another Spencer three-pointer.

Just over a minute later, Spencer knocked down his fourth triple of the game to push the lead to 39-31, and the Wildcats could only respond with a turnover. While Brooks Barnhizer would knock down a three-pointer of his own a minute later, the Scarlet Knights were able to keep Northwestern at bay despite struggling offensively thanks to active defense and free throws.

The crowd — mostly students — was on its feet the entire time, making life miserable for Rutgers’ offense while providing a huge boost for Northwestern’s. Robbie Beran put up his first points of the game at the charity stripe to cut the lead to 42-39, and the motivated defense forced a turnover on the next possession.

Both offenses remained unable to kick into high gear until Hyatt broke a Rutgers scoring drought of nearly three minutes with just under 10 minutes to play in the game. On the next possession, Mulcahy hit a shot from downtown to push the lead back to eight.

Northwestern was able to slowly claw back to within six, but Mulcahy hit another shot from deep, seemingly spelling doom for the ‘Cats. However, he was called for a technical for flopping, and the Wildcats used their ninth life (and some trips to the line) to get within four points with under six minutes to play.

The crowd was reaching a deafening level by this point, and somehow reached another level after the ensuing Rutgers turnover. When Audige hit a three from Skokie, the roof nearly came off the building. And after he gave Northwestern its first lead of the game on a silky-smooth layup to cap a 14-3 run, the arena was a solid wall of noise.

Coming out of the timeout, Rutgers appeared to be on the ropes, but quickly escaped thanks to a big-time Hyatt triple. The small Rutgers fan contingent made themselves known after that play, but were quickly silenced by a Julian Roper II fadeaway to knot the game at 55.

Beran and Spencer traded three pointers — Beran’s the fifth consecutive make for the Wildcats, Spencer’s a wild leaner from the Chicago metro area that somehow banked in — before a Rutgers foul sent Nicholson to the line with 2:11 on the clock. He was able to split the trip, and the defense survived two Rutgers offensive rebounds on the ensuing possession.

With the crowd begging for a bucket, Roper banked in a triple from the middle of Lake Michigan to push the lead to four points — the largest of the game for the ‘Cats. Mulcahy hit a pair of free throws for the Scarlet Knights, and then Rutgers got a stop.

The Scarlet Knights had 23.6 seconds to score against the 15th-ranked defense in the country by points allowed. They needed only nine, as Spencer hit his sixth three pointer of the game to give Rutgers a 63-62 lead. Following a jump ball with a Scarlet Knight possession arrow, Spencer went to the line, where he hit both for his 23rd point of the night.

Northwestern had five seconds.

Audige had a decent look from a few feet beyond the arc, but pushed it long and outside. Rutgers held on for a stunning road victory, prevailing 65-62.

The Wildcats return to the hardwood Sunday in Ann Arbor to take on the Michigan Wolverines. Tip is set for 11 a.m. CT.