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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern pulls away from Rhode Island for 72-61 victory at Hall of Fame Tip-Off

So many scorers.

NCAA Basketball: Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off-Rhode Island at Northwestern Mark Smith-USA TODAY Sports

About a thousand miles away from Ryan Field, Northwestern men’s basketball kept the party going.

The Wildcats (4-0, 0-0 B1G) rode a spectacular defensive start and a balanced scoring attack to a 72-61 victory over Rhode Island (3-1, 0-0 A10) at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Uncasville, Connecticut. NU advanced to the championship game, where it will face Mississippi State at noon CT tomorrow afternoon.

Northwestern had three scorers reach double figures. Brooks Barnhizer put up 18 points and nine rebounds on a 5-of-15 shooting mark, with Boo Buie adding 16. After playing only 14 minutes against Western Michigan, Ty Berry played a crucial role with 13 points and three three-pointers in 34 minutes.

URI also had three scorers reach the 10-point threshold. Zek Montgomery led the Rams with 18, while Cam Estevez and Luis Kortright contributed 15 and 11 points, respectively.

After a minute of scorelessness, Matthew Nicholson drew first blood with a powerful jam off a bounce pass from a driving Ryan Langborg. The big man set the tone for a great defensive start for Northwestern, which forced Rhode Island to start just 1-of-8 from the field in the first four minutes. A fastbreak steal-and-score from Buie off a David Fuchs turnover — as well as a three-pointer a few possessions later — gave the Wildcats a 9-2 lead at the under-16.

Blake Preston kept the fun going out of the break with a beautiful assist to Langborg, who hit a reverse layup off a backdoor cut. The ‘Cats continued to stifle the Rams, forcing five more misses and two more turnovers. Barnhizer took one of those to the rim for a fastbreak score, and capitalized two Nick Martinelli offensive rebounds on the same possession with a three-pointer as the shot clock expired. It extended Northwestern’s lead to 10-0, giving the Wildcats a 16-2 lead at the under-12.

To make things even worse for Rhode Island, Berry then caught fire. He drained threes on back-to-back possessions after a few more Rams misses to make it 16 unanswered points for the ‘Cats. Northwestern held its 22-2 lead into the under-eight, with the Rams having shot 1-of-19 up to that point.

Finally, Kortright ended the drought with an and-one layup on Justin Mullins, and Montgomery added to URI’s total with another and-one. Both teams traded scores for a few possessions before Rhode Island put a dent into Northwestern’s lead with treys from Montgomery and Estevez, which forced Chris Collins to take a timeout with 4:38 left in the first half.

URI continued its run with force, as Tyson Brown swiftly rejected a Jordan Clayton layup attempt out of the timeout. Jaden House took it the other way, feeding Montgomery with a slick bounce pass for the deuce. A free throw by Brown and a layup by Kortright then sandwiched a second-chance Preston layup to cut the Northwestern lead to single digits, making it 28-22 with 2:43 to go.

Rhode Island only got closer, as a Brown interception of a pass from Buie led to two free throws for House. Montgomery drew another foul after snagging an offensive rebound, which brought the Rams within four. Barnhizer and Preston quieted the spurt with three free throws and a putback, respectively, but the half ended on a sour note. Kortright released a contested three with less than a second left, but Buie fouled him. The Rhode Island guard drained two of three free throws, which cut Northwestern’s lead to 33-26 at the half.

After starting 1-of-18 from the field, Rhode Island ended the half going 7-of-9. Northwestern was shooting just 35% from the field despite making four of its nine threes, and went just 2-of-12 from the field in the final 5:50. The Wildcats were clogging passing lanes and doing well on the glass — securing 12 offensive rebounds — but lost some of the momentum it possessed early on.

However, the Wildcats came out of the break energized, as Barnhizer quickly drained a three after Nicholson blocked a fastbreak layup on the other end. Following a couple misses by both teams, Buie and House traded twos, before No. 0 responded with a beautiful stepback three. With that, Northwestern had increased its lead to 41-28. Before reaching the under-16, Jordan Clayton drew a charge and finished a layup before Montgomery put back his own miss to make it 43-30 NU.

Out of that stoppage, layups from Martinelli and Clayton sandwiched an Estevez three. A few possessions later, Estevez responded to a Buie floater with another make from deep. Both teams kept adding to the offensive output, as Montgomery followed up a midrange, stepback jumper from Langborg with another three-pointer. Martinelli answered that bucket with a cutting layup off a Preston assist, which kept Northwestern’s lead at a comfortable 53-39 going into the under-12.

Again, both teams answered each other, but then Rhode Island went on another mini-run. Kortright drained another three, which Estevez followed up with a steal-and-score off Clayton. Buie briefly quelled the momentum with a driving layup to get to nine points in the second half with more than 10 minutes to go, but Jeremy Foumena banked in a three-pointer on the next possession to cut URI’s deficit to 57-48 with 9:22 remaining.

Both offenses cooled down after Foumena’s three, with pairs of free throws from Buie and Langborg marking the game’s only points in a four-minute span. Montgomery later drew a foul of his own and made both free throws, with Kortright nailing two more after Preston threw it out of bounds from the low post.

Finally, Northwestern put up a field goal. After rebounding his own miss, Barnhizer found an open Berry for his third three-pointer of the game to make it 64-52. No. 13 then hit a one-legged fadeaway on the next possession to increase the lead to 14 with 2:18 remaining.

From there, Langborg put the nail in the coffin with a stepback, three-point dagger with 1:57 to go. NU closed the game out without much trouble to move to 4-0 on the year.

Tip-off against Mississippi State is set for noon CT, and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2.