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Just 48 hours removed from an ankle injury, Ty Berry personifies Northwestern’s resilience

The junior’s career night puts the ‘Cats in a favorable spot as they endure a tough two-week stretch.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Nebraska Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

As if Northwestern didn’t have enough on its plate.

Dealing with an intense game against Wisconsin to kick off a grueling two-week stretch coming off an eight-day, COVID-induced layoff, the grimaces on the faces of Julian Roper and Ty Berry threw everything into flux. Their ankle injuries damaged NU’s wing depth so badly that Chris Collins played first-year Nick Martinelli for the first time in almost two months.

While the ‘Cats took the win on Monday, it only made their next contest against Nebraska less than 48 hours later seem more and more like a trap game. In Lincoln, coming off a crucial victory, potentially playing without two of its top wings at full strength and facing an opponent who Northwestern had beaten six straight times entering Wednesday night? The recipe for an off-night seemed all too familiar for a team that has not only been inconsistent in recent years, but in conference play this season also (to be fair, that inconsistency pales in comparison to the rest of the Big Ten right now).

Instead, just like it did against Indiana, Northwestern again proved how resilient of a team it is. And fittingly, it was Berry, playing on that bad ankle, whose 26-point career night gave NU the offensive cushion it needed heading into the game’s final 10 minutes.

Beyond his injury, the fact that it was Berry who punctuated Northwestern’s firm response to the beginning of a nine-day period where it will play four games reads like a Disney script. After a great four-game stretch to kick off conference play, in which he averaged 12.5 points with an effective field goal percentage north of 55%, the junior was quiet against Michigan and got hurt against Wisconsin. In some respects, it mirrored Berry’s 2021-22 season, when he was a staple in Northwestern’s rotation in early January before his minutes drastically fluctuated the rest of the season.

It’s not like Berry’s minutes would have gone anywhere had he struggled against the Cornhuskers, but he persevered to prove that he isn’t just a perimeter threat for the ‘Cats, but a consistent top scoring option. As Nebraska’s Keisei Tominaga lit up NU’s defense for 15 points in the first 10 minutes, Berry kept answering with a flurry of midrange jumpers off the dribble.

It wasn’t until after Tominaga began to cool off when Berry really started to bury open threes at will. He, Matt Nicholson and Boo Buie, who may have had the quietest 17-point night in a while, set in motion the 10-0, half-ending run that gave Northwestern its first significant lead. The ‘Cats went into the break shooting about 55% from the field and 53% from beyond the arc.

They weren’t the only ones to fight through the quick turnaround. Chase Audige started the game ice-cold, as he failed to score in the first half and committed four turnovers, but he flipped the switch offensively. That change began quietly. He got on the board with a layup, and followed it up with a slick post feed to Nicholson, which led to a free throw trip for the big man.

Soon enough, just as Berry and the rest of the NU offense began to fall back to Earth, Audige took the reins. His transition offense early in the half helped Northwestern’s lead grow to over 20 points.

While that was important, there was no play where he made his presence felt as loudly as his thunderous putback dunk with under four minutes left. The ‘Cats hadn’t scored in over four minutes, and Nebraska had cut a deficit that was as large as 23 points to just 12. Audige effectively put any worries to bed with his slam off a Berry miss, hanging on the rim and quieting the crowd. He shot 6-of-8 from the field en route to 15 points, the literal difference in the game.

Considering this win came against Nebraska, one of probably three teams in the Big Ten one can conclusively designate as a bottom-feeder or a contender right now, it’s easy to overplay the result. Northwestern’s offensive slump toward the end of the game wasn’t too encouraging either.

Regardless, in a conference where predictable wins on the schedule seem to be anything but, it’s a massive plus for Northwestern to control a game on the road, fresh off a draining game on Monday. Now, the ‘Cats get to go home and face Minnesota — the worst opponent left on their slate — in front of what should be a jam-packed student section at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Saturday, given all of its tickets were claimed within 15 minutes of their release.

Winning that game and the next one against Iowa would give the ‘Cats a 7-3 conference record, the same mark through the first half of the Big Ten schedule as... shocker, the 2016-17 team.

As if Northwestern didn’t have enough on its plate.