It wasn’t pretty by any means, but the ‘Cats exorcised their (Blue) Demons.
No. 25 Northwestern (8-2, 1-0 B1G) earned a bounce-back win against DePaul (2-8, 0-0 Big East) 56-46. Despite hitting less than one-third of their first-half shots, the Wildcats did just enough to eke out a double-digit victory.
Nick Martinelli scored a team-high 16 points, followed by a 14-point effort by Ryan Langborg. As a team, Northwestern struggled from beyond the arc, shooting 25% from three. For the Blue Demons, Jeremiah Oden led the way with 12 points. Elijah Fisher added 10 points on 4-of-10 from the field.
DePaul won the tip and immediately struck at home, as Oden canned a three for the game’s first points. For the ‘Cats, Boo Buie responded with a layup on the other end to make it 3-2. Three minutes into the action, Langborg hit a three from the left wing to put NU up 5-3. 60 seconds later, Buie lobbed a pass over his head to Matthew Nicholson for a beautiful flush, putting the ‘Cats up 7-6.
The Blue Demons swiped the ball from Buie coming out of the under-16 timeout, but Chico Carter Jr. couldn’t hit a shot from deep. ‘Cats reserves Justin Clayton and Blake Preston checked in with just over 14 minutes to go. Right on cue, Carter Jr. cashed a corner three over Clayton to make it a 9-7 lead for DePaul.
With 13:18 to go, Buie sprinted down the floor but lost the handle yet again, forcing him to call an early timeout. Off the inbounds pass, Nick Martinelli hit a soft baby hook from the baseline to knot the game at 9-9. On the other end, K.T. Raimey nailed a three from the left corner off the bench for the Blue Demons. Langborg couldn’t respond from deep, but Martinelli grabbed the rebound and fought through contact for an and-one opportunity. He hit the free throw, making it 12-12.
For DePaul, Carter Jr. slashed through the defense for an up-and-under layup. On the other end, Langborg let it fly for a deep shot from the right wing to put the ‘Cats up 15-14. A possession later, the ball rolled around the floor until NU corralled it and dished it to Martinelli under the rim, and he drew contact. No. 2 connected with a pair at the stripe to make it 17-14 midway through the half.
With nine minutes left, the ‘Cats forced a shot clock possession with some stellar team defense. On their next possession, Brooks Barnhizer drew a foul and canned the first of two shots from the line, expanding NU’s lead to 18-14. The Blue Demons showed off their ball movement, as Oden cut to the rim and got hacked by Nicholson, hitting both free throws to cut Northwestern’s advantage to two. On the other end, Buie found Barnhizer for an open look from straight on, but the junior couldn’t find the bottom of the net.
Coming off the under-8 timeout, both teams failed to hit midrange jumpers. As the shooting woes continued for a stretch, Langborg found Buie for a reverse layup, putting NU up 20-16 with 4:40 to go in the half. Martinelli followed up on the next possession with a corner three to inflate the lead to seven. For DePaul, Oden hit a tough midrange fadeaway to score his team’s first points in almost nine minutes.
With 2:43 to go, DePaul big man Churchill Abass drew contact on Preston and sank both free throws to make it 23-20. A minute later, Oden flaunted his footwork for an easy shot at the rim. Martinelli shot right back, finding the net with an awkward floater that put the ‘Cats up 25-22. On DePaul’s last possession of the half, Elijah Fisher finished a strong layup and hit a free throw to tie the game at 25-25. Buie couldn’t respond for the ‘Cats, as he lost the ball out of bounds for his second turnover, sending the game to the half all even.
The Blue Demons entered halftime on a 9-2 run. Martinelli led all scorers with 12 points, but the ‘Cats shot an atrocious 32.1% from the field and 17.6% from deep. DePaul didn’t look much better, hitting 30.8% of their shots.
Starting the second half, Barnhizer hit a middy that bounced around the rim before falling in. Fisher flew in for a DePaul dunk on the other end, knotting the game once more at 27-27. Nicholson and Preston each drew their third fouls on consecutive possessions, but the latter stayed in. Back on offense, Langborg swished a three home from the top of the arc to put the ‘Cats up 30-27.
After a miss from Oden, Buie glided to the rim for a layup high off the glass. Carter Jr. answered for DePaul, bringing it down to a one-point game, but Preston finished a layup off a Buie assist to make it 34-31. Next time down the floor, Langborg continued his hot streak with a three from the right wing to expand the lead to six entering the under-16 timeout.
With 14:49 to go, Oden drew contact on Luke Hunger but only hit one shot from the charity stripe, making it 37-32. While the ‘Cats forced Da’Sean Nelson to cough the ball up with a clever double-team on back-to-back possessions, they continued to come up empty as Buie missed a shot at the rim. On the next two possessions, Barnhizer added five quick points with a corner three and a layup off a steal. DePaul called a timeout as the ‘Cats got out to a 42-34 lead.
Following the under-12 timeout, Raimey hit both free throws for DePaul to make it 42-36. With 10:44 to go, Buie sank a confident step-back three to push NU’s lead back up to nine, and on the next possession, Martinelli grabbed an offensive rebound and circled back into the paint for a left-handed floater to make it 47-36.
With seven to go, Martinelli dribbled the ball off his leg for NU’s seventh turnover of the game. However, the ‘Cats made up for it a minute later, as Barnhizer splashed a three to bloat their lead to 50-38 and force a DePaul timeout. After the break, Chris Collins had to call a quick NU timeout after Barnhizer’s defender trapped him in the corner.
Off the timeout, Buie coughed up his third turnover and Langborg picked up a frustration foul. With DePaul in the bonus, Raimey hit just one of his two free throws to make it 50-39. For the ‘Cats, Martinelli showcased his soft touch with a spinning drop-step at the rim. Following the under-4 timeout, Carter Jr. hit both free throws to cut NU’s lead to nine. On the other end, Langborg canned a spinning midrange jumper to bump the score back up to 54-43.
Besides two free throws from Buie, both teams traded empty possessions for several minutes. Fisher hit a last-second three to cut the lead to 10, but it was all for naught. The ‘Cats won 56-46 in a lockdown effort at Wintrust Arena.
Northwestern will travel to Phoenix for a matchup against Arizona State on Wednesday night. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2 at 7:30 p.m. CT.