The difference between the impossible turn and the repeat performance.
The difference between the crown jewel of Northwestern’s 2023 March Madness resume and a taste of what 2024 has in store.
The difference between Chase Audige’s 10 points in the last 3:33 of play and Ryan Langborg and Ty Berry pouring in a combined 41 points to aid a Boo Buie masterclass.
New faces. New season. Same result.
The first upset was a game close throughout. Purdue controlled the first half, taking a 37-30 lead into the break. The Boilermakers led for almost 35 minutes, but Northwestern’s resilience kept the ‘Cats hanging around waiting for a moment to pounce. Both teams traded buckets but Northwestern struggled to get within one possession. Trailing by one with 1:39 left in regulation, Audige etched a memory Northwestern fans will never forget – a heroic corner three that sent Welsh-Ryan Arena into chaos and handed Northwestern the lead for good.
That victory was all about emotion — a Boilermaker beatdown until the blur of an 18-6 Northwestern run over the final six minutes ended in Northwestern’s first of three student section storms against Purdue teams in 2023. What played as an ugly basketball game will be remembered for the story it started.
The second game is defined by its second half. Purdue dominated the game’s opening 20 minutes, playing at its own pace and dictating the terms of the contest. Northwestern was lucky to come into the second half trailing by only eight, giving Buie and company an opportunity to claw back.
This time it only took the ‘Cats five minutes to even the score, setting the stage for a heart-throbbing (or gut-wrenching?) end to regulation. Buie, Berry and Langborg’s offense kept Northwestern in it, punching Purdue in the mouth as the ‘Cats played their brand of gritty basketball.
Audige’s three stands out as the game-defining play from beating Purdue the first time. Buie tried to give Northwestern fans a similar moment in the dying seconds of regulation with a finish eerily similar to his buzzer beater against Indiana last season.
Still thinking about this Boo bucket at the end of regulation pic.twitter.com/Eu9a8ENgyR— Adam Beck (@AdamCBeck18) December 2, 2023
But even with Buie’s magic, Zach Edey and Purdue still managed to find an answer sending the game to overtime. The second upset had something the first one didn’t — an unhealthy amount of lead changes (18 total for the game) and razor thin margins throughout the second half.
The mood shift inside Welsh-Ryan Arena from Buie’s floater to Edey’s equalizer was an 180-degree flip. Purdue jumped on the momentum swing opening up a 79-76 lead to begin overtime. But just like a cat with nine lives, Buie and Berry swung back, nailing huge threes to even things up, 82-82. With the ‘Cats up a pair with 16 seconds remaining, Blake Preston poked away Purdue’s last chance to secure Northwestern’s win.
Last season featured a great basketball game. This season boasted a great game of basketball.
Last season it was Matt Nicholson against Edey. This season it was Luke Hunger and Blake Preston battling against college basketball’s best player in crunch time.
Last season it was a 64-58 comeback victory. This season it was a 92-88 overtime thriller.
New season. New heroes. Same result.
Northwestern knocked off No. 1 Purdue two seasons in a row pic.twitter.com/crsMwDUxZe— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 2, 2023
Northwestern’s repeat performance was nothing short of history. The ‘Cats became the first unranked squad to beat the same AP No. 1 team at home in consecutive campaigns and the seventh team since 2010-11 to beat an AP No. 1 in back-to-back seasons. The second upset shows this team is capable of everything that last year’s squad laid the groundwork for.
Beating Purdue to open conference play behind another big game performance from Buie — this time with a ridiculous 31 point, 9 assist and 0 turnover statline — proved that this squad’s preseason expectations are real.
However, without Northwestern’s unlikely win back in February this program wouldn’t have been able to do it again. That win made the impossible possible, showed miracles can happen and gave Northwestern the push to finish a five-game February win streak to make March Madness a reality. All that offseason momentum put stunning Purdue for a second time within reach.
Feb. 12, 2023 was and still is Northwestern’s biggest win in program history.
It was unexpected and unprecedented, but it proved that the ‘Cats could hold their own against anyone. As the adrenaline rush of Northwestern’s first ever win over an AP No. 1 team subsided, beating Purdue in February showed that the ‘Cats had a legitimate opportunity to make a postseason run. More importantly, the win gave the ‘Cats the fuel to propel them to their best Big Ten finish since 1959.
Last time it was impossible. This time, it was unlikely but within the depths of imagination.
Last time David beat Goliath. This time David knew how to beat Goliath.
Last time allowed Northwestern fans to Dream On. This time allowed Northwestern fans to dream again.
Pick your poison for which upset was bigger, but these two wins are just the beginning of the story Northwestern basketball is writing.