It’s better to win ugly than lose pretty.
Coming off a victory against Dayton in front of a sold-out student section on Friday, Northwestern (3-0, 0-0 B1G) held off Western Michigan (0-3, 0-0 MAC) 63-59 in a shaky performance. The offense was out of sync, and the rebounding effort was not up to snuff, but the ‘Cats got the job done.
Brooks Barnhizer led the way for Northwestern, racking up 20 points and seven rebounds on 8-for-14 shooting. Boo Buie added 21 points, but was inefficient from three at just three-for-nine. Nobody else was particularly impactful offensively for the ‘Cats; Ryan Langborg was especially disappointing, missing all of his threes and scoring just six.
Seth Hubbard paced the Broncos in scoring with 17 points, and Brandon Muntu supplied an additional eight. Jefferson De La Cruz Monegro dished out 10 assists and added another six points in the contest. As a team, Western Michigan shot 42% from the field and 32% from three. Its 17 turnovers to Northwestern’s seven hurt its effort.
Northwestern won the tip, but turned the ball over on its first offensive set, leading to a Hubbard three at the other end. On Western Michigan’s next time down the floor, Owen Lobsinger poured one in from beyond the arc to give Western Michigan a 6-0 lead out of the gates. On the ensuing Northwestern possession, though, Ty Berry got the ‘Cats on the board with a three of his own. Northwestern scored a few possessions later on a Matt Nicholson wide-open dunk to bring the score to 6-5 at the first media timeout.
Freshman Jordan Clayton entered the game out of the break for the ‘Cats and immediately made an impact with a nice feed to Nicholson inside for another dunk. The ‘Cats first lead lasted just briefly before a made free throw and another Bronco three, this time from Javaughn Hannah, put them back in a 10-7 hole. The deficit extended to 12-7 before Nick Martinelli settled things down with a bucket. The score was 12-9 at the under-12 with the ‘Cats shooting just 33% from the field.
The teams traded buckets out of the timeout, but a three from Brooks Barnhizer to cut the lead to two at 14-12. Muntu converted on a pair of free throws for the Broncos, but Barnhizer was able to force a steal on the next defensive possession leading to a Martinelli fast-break bucket. However, No.2 couldn't finish the and-one opportunity. Barnhizer was fouled on a made fade-away shot on the next possession, and the junior rattled it home to cut the deficit to 16-15. The string of and-ones continued on the next possession as Buie got his name on the score sheet with an impressive lay-in while getting hacked. The ‘Cats led 22-18 at the third media timeout of the half.
Hubbard scored first out of the break, bringing his output to double-digits. The Broncos were then able to get within one, but Buie converted on a contested three to extend the lead back to 27-23. Lobsinger fired back with a three of his own, but then Clayton answered with his first points at the college level to push Northwestern led 30-26, and that would remain the score until the under-four.
With Nicholson and Blake Preston both dealing with foul trouble, both having two in the first half, sophomore Luke Hunger saw his first action of the season. Scoring was slow until Buie converted on one of his classic floaters to give the ‘Cats a six-point lead with under a minute to play. Hubbard scored on the ensuing Bronco possession, but on the last Wildcat possession of the half Buie found Barnhizer streaking down the floor, and he converted at the basket through contact. He converted the three-point play and the ‘Cats led 35-28 at half.
Northwestern shot 45% from the field in the opening stanza but was very poor from long range, shooting a meager 4-for-17. The ‘Cats were also out-rebounded 25-11, including 10-2 on the offensive end. Barnhizer led the way with 13 points and five boards, shooting five-for-six from the floor. Buie contributed eight, but wasn't particularly efficient. He was especially poor from long-range shooting just one-for-six from three.
The Broncos did not shoot the ball well as a team at just 36%, but they were better than Northwestern from three at 31%. Western Michigan also had eight turnovers at the break to Northwestern’s one. Hubbard led the scoring charge with 12, and Lobsinger added six more as the Broncos hung with the Wildcats for the entirety of the opening period.
Out of the locker room, the ‘Cats lead quickly reached double digits on Northwestern’s first possession when Barnhizer knifed into the lane on a fast-break for his third and-one of the night. He stretched the lead even further a few possessions later with another bucket inside, but Muntu immediately followed it up with a three to cut the lead to 40-31. Nicholson’s third foul led to two made free throws, pushing the score to 40-33 where it would remain until the first media timeout of the final half.
After the teams traded baskets out of the break, Titus Wright converted an and-one attempt for the Broncos, and the lead was just six at 44-38. Northwestern’s rebounding woes continued after Anthony Crump missed two free throws for the Broncos and the ‘Cats could not secure the board. The Broncos failed to convert, but Monegro scored the next time down the floor to cut the lead to four. Barnhizer then missed a three, dropping the ‘Cats overall percentage to 19%, and Hannah followed that up with a made triple making the score 44-43 at the under-12.
After the timeout, Buie drove to the rack in an attempt to stabilize things and was fouled. He made both free throws, ending a six-point Bronco run. However, the ‘Cats once again failed to secure a defensive rebound on the next possession, and Wright converted for two. Buie and Wright each scored again on successive possessions, and the score was 49-47. After a failed Wildcat set, Barnhizer collected his third steal of the night and scored. Langborg followed that up with his first basket of the game on a dribble-drive lay-in to bring the score to 53-47 at the under-eight.
The ‘Cats offense couldn’t get anything going out of the break, and Western Michigan used the dry spell to cut the lead. Muntu nailed a three to bring the score to 53-52. Buie was fouled on the next possession, but only made one of his free throws. The defense stood up on the other end, but the offensive struggles then continued with a Barnhizer travel leading to a Western Michigan bucket, evening the score at 54. On the next possession, though, Buie redeemed his missed foul shot with a contested, deep three from the wing. Northwestern led 57-54 with just under four minutes to play.
After a Barnhizer offensive rebound and a held ball that went to the ‘Cats, Buie rattled home a two to stretch the lead to 59-54. It was quickly erased by a Hubbard three that cut the deficit to two. The next possession appeared to be going poorly for the ‘Cats, but Langborg chucked up a last second long-two that found bottom of the net, and the ‘Cats led 61-57 with two minutes to play.
After a missed three from Barnhizer, the Broncos secured two consecutive offensive boards on the other end, and Hubbard was eventually able to convert a lay-up. The ‘Cats had possession up 61-59 with 20.6 seconds on the clock heading into a Western Michigan timeout.
Langborg was fouled on Northwestern’s ensuing possession and made both ends of the one-and-one to make the score 63-59. Martinelli stole the ball on the Broncos’ next possession, and Barnhizer was fouled intentionally. He missed the front end, but Muntu couldn’t sink a last-second three, and Northwestern escaped with a 63-59 victory.
The ‘Cats are back in action on Saturday, traveling to Uncasville, Connecticut to take on Rhode Island in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-off Tournament.