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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern ends non-conference play with a 74-63 win over Jackson State

A win is a win.

NCAA Basketball: Jackson State at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Bring on the Big Ten.

In the final non-conference game, Northwestern (10-2, 1-0 B1G) held off Jackson State (4-10, 0-0 SWAC) 74-63 on Friday night. Despite a close game early one, the ‘Cats hovered around a double-digit lead for most of the game.

NU was led by Ty Berry, who had 20 points, shooting 50% from deep. Ryan Langborg added 17 points, and Boo Buie supplemented the win with 12 points and five assists. For JSU, Ken Evans Jr. scored 23 points.

Jackson State controlled the opening tip, and Zeke Cook scored the first points of the game in the paint. Langborg quickly got the ‘Cats going, shooting three triples, while the Tigers had back-to-back turnovers, giving NU a 9-5 early advantage.

After the timeout, the Tigers went on a 10-0 run before Buie ended the drought with a fast break jumper cutting the ‘Cats’ deficit to one. On the other end of the floor, Northwestern left Mitchell wide open for a three-pointer. A few plays later, Berry scored his first points of the game with a three, and the game was soon even at 19-19.

The pace of the game slowed for the Tigers, thanks to Northwestern's defense. Nick Martinelli entered the game, quickly providing help, scoring a second-chance layup after a turnover by JSU. After a back-and-forth battle, the Wildcats offense went into overdrive when Berry connected on two shots from beyond the arc.

With five minutes left in the first, Northwestern had their biggest lead of the half at 36-26. As Jackson State tried to stay in the game, Chase Adams drove through the paint for an easy layup and found the bottom of the net on the next possession, cutting the ‘Cats’ lead to 39-33 at halftime.

Starting the second half, the Tigers scored a layup by Jordan O’Neal, but NU responded with a hard alley-oop dunk from Nicholson. Following the dunk, Nicholson chased down Cook for a block at the rim, and going the other way, Barnhizer hit from deep. Despite the measly six-point lead at the half, Northwestern was up 12 in the first minutes of the second half.

Berry continued his hot shooting with another triple and midrange jumper, giving him 19 points. On the other side, Jackson State responded with a triple; however, Northwestern was not laying off the gas as Nicholson battled to the rim for a driving layup and drew the foul, but he missed the free throw. It was all ‘Cats early in the half, leading by 16 at the media timeout.

Following the break, Evans quickly got up a good shot at the arc, making the score 61-48. The Tigers tried to will themselves back in the game as Johnson made a tough jumper, and a three from Young cut NU’s lead to 10. After having eight turnovers in the first half, the Tigers kept it to only one with eight minutes left.

Despite maintaining the ball, Jackson State went scoreless for three minutes. With Northwestern’s lead growing, a bad pass by Adams made for a driving score by Preston. By the time O’Neal had a big dunk with six minutes to go, JSU still trailed 67-55. Despite numerous turnovers by Northwestern, the Tigers could not capitalize to bring the game close. The ‘Cats closed out a 74-63 victory, sealing a 9-2 non-conference record.

For the first game of 2024, Northwestern will face No. 11 Illinois in Champaign on Jan. 2. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. CT.