It may have came late, but the victory was just as sweet.
Following an eight-day layoff due to several players testing positive for COVID, the Northwestern Wildcats (13-5, 4-3 B1G) returned to the court to defeat the Wisconsin Badgers (12-6, 4-4 B1G), 66-63.
The Wildcats were led by their star backcourt of Chase Audige and Boo Buie, who combined for 36 points and nine rebounds. Brooks Barnhizer aided the seniors’ effort with an additional nine points and five rebounds. Wisconsin’s Chucky Hepburn and Jordan Davis guided the Badgers, combining for 27 points and seven rebounds.
The Badgers won the opening tip, but Audige picked up right he left off, deflecting the ball out of bounds. Buie couldn’t connect on the ‘Cats’ first position, but buckets by both Matt Nicholson and Audige put NU up by two early in the half.
The Badgers found holes in the Northwestern defense, allowing for two easy layups. On the other end of the floor, Audige felt the hot hand, scoring five points in a row for the Wildcats, including a straightaway three that got the student section alive. Wisconsin answered with a three of its own to tie the game at nine. Buie did not have as much luck from the field as his backcourt partner, going 0-of-3 and leaving the game even at nine at the media timeout.
Ty Berry broke the tie with a mid-range jumper after Tydus Verhoeven poked it away from the Badgers. Julian Roper took it away on the next possession and went coast to coast for an easy lay-in to put the ‘Cats up four, then followed it up with a beautiful ball fake and three to expand the run to seven straight. Wisconsin took a timeout to try and stop the bleeding.
The Badgers started to find their groove on offense, going on a 5-0 run before a floater by Buie brought NU’s lead back to four. Roper left the game with an apparent ankle injury and was not seen the rest of the game. This made it an 18-14 advantage with seven and a half to play in the first.
Out of the break, Audige connected on a fadeaway and Barnhizer got one to go off the glass to put the ‘Cats up eight, but an and-one for Steven Crowl cut the lead back to six. A Badger three made it a single-possession game, but Buie’s pair of free throws, Northwestern’s first of the game, pushed the lead back to five with four minutes in the half. A massive block by Robbie Beran sent the Badgers into a media timeout and brought Wildside to their feet.
Three free throws expanded the ‘Cats’ lead to eight, but a foul by Beran on the rebound sent the Badgers to the line. The Badgers worked out of the Wildcats’ trap to find Chucky Hepburn an open three, cutting the lead to five, but an and-one by Buie brought the lead right back. A tip-in at the buzzer by Carter Gilmore cut the Northwestern lead to 32-26 heading into the locker room.
It was all Badgers out of the break, as they went on a quick 8-0 run to take their first lead of the game since leading 2-0 and forced Chris Collins to take a timeout early in the half. Out of the timeout, Buie responded with a three to regain the lead; however, on the next possession, a cutting Ty Berry lost his footing and stayed down on the floor, heading straight back to the locker room.
The momentum swung toward Wisconsin, as they went on another 5-0 run to push their lead to four, but Beran hit a three to cut it back to one. Verhoeven picked up his fourth foul and Nicholson picked up his third, forcing both to go to the bench early. Buie worked his way to the rim for an easy layup, and a blown layup by Tyler Wahl kept it a single-possession game. Buie got extremely crafty with his handles and hit a tough floater to tie the game, quelling the sea of red inside Welsh-Ryan with 14 minutes to play.
The Badgers continued to have open shots on the weak side of the Northwestern defense, and put one down to regain the lead, but a wide-open layup by Beran sent the lead right back to the purple-and-white. With Berry and Roper injured and both Nicholson and Verhoeven in foul trouble, the Wildcats turned to freshman Nick Martinelli, who was able to grab a major offensive rebound for NU and draw a foul, much to the thrill of the student section. Buie capitalized on the extra possession with another tough floater, but a wide-open Wisconsin three brought the game even at 48 with a little more than 10 minutes to play.
Foul trouble continued for the Wildcats, with Nicholson being forced to sit with four fouls. Audige found the bottom of the net for three to put the ‘Cats up two, but another and-one by Wisconsin tied the game up and sent Verhoeven for an early shower as he fouled out. Neither team could capitalize on their next possessions, holding the Badger lead at 52-51 at the media timeout with under eight to play.
Barnhizer buried a triple from dead center to give Northwestern a two-point lead, five quick Badger points gave Wisconsin, and Collins decided to let his squad regroup. After an Audige fadeaway, Buie gave the ‘Cats the lead back with a tough finish through contact. Buie then could not connect an open look from three, but Barnhizer cleaned up the glass and drew a foul, hitting both free throws to send the lead back to NU with four minutes left in the game.
Both teams traded leads with under three to play, but a questionable foul call sent Wisconsin to the foul line down one, much to the dismay and ire of the home crowd. On the other end, Nicholson hit a pair of free throws to put NU back up two with two minutes left to play. A great defensive stand by Northwestern forced a shot clock violation, and a missed three by the Badgers on their ensuing possession held the Wildcats' lead at two with a minute left to play.
In another good stand by the Northwestern defense, Chucky Hepburn could not hit from the mid-range, and the rebound found Beran who was fouled instantly. Beran connected on both free throws to put NU up four, and another NU stop and Buie rebound all but ended it, securing the 66-63 victory for Northwestern.
The ‘Cats are back in action Wednesday in Lincoln, Nebraska taking on the Cornhuskers at 6 p.m. (CST).