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Boo Buie is incredible — but he can’t do it alone

The captain has made a difference when it’s mattered most, but the rest of the team seems to be lagging behind.

Photo by GRIFFIN QUINN/Northwestern Athletics

What else is there to say about Boo Buie?

The senior point guard has been phenomenal over the back half of the season. He’s stepped up in Northwestern’s biggest moments, and given himself a real chance at a First-Team All-Big Ten bid while putting his team in the running for a conference title. The best part is that he only seems to be getting better.

There was no time more evident of this than Thursday night, when Northwestern Twitter absolutely exploded in real time as No. 0 No. 4 lit up the Illini. He totaled a whopping 35 points, the second-highest amount scored by any player in the Big Ten this season. Buie has consistently come up clutch for Northwestern, making shots, facilitating passes and playing with a hungry desire to win.

Eight days ago, after defeating Indiana on a late-game layup, I wrote that Boo Buie is the face of Northwestern. I wrote about his growth, and how he’s gone from a flashy but inconsistent player to an exceptional leader and one of the best hoopers in the Big Ten. What he’s done this season has been nothing short of spectacular.

But if Northwestern wants to make a splash in the postseason, somebody else needs to make shots.

As Buie has stepped up his play late in the season, it seems like everyone else has taken a step back. Chase Audige is the obvious culprit, currently in a cold slump where he’s averaging 11.4 points on 31.8% shooting in his last eight games. Ty Berry has also hit a brutal stretch, with just 5.2 points per game on just 26.8% shooting since his 26-point explosion against Nebraska, while Robbie Beran (4.9 points on 30.2% over his last eight games) has also not been a factor lately.

This reality finally caught up to Northwestern in the final 20 minutes against Illinois. As the Illini began to double Buie and contain his outburst, the only other Wildcat who was able to get more than one shot to fall in the second half was Brooks Barnhizer, who finished with 11 points. Barnhizer was also the only other Wildcat to meet or exceed his season average.

To quote fellow editor Bradley Locker, “All year long, we’ve wondered when a third option would emerge for Northwestern. With three regular season games left, there isn’t even a consistent *second* option.”

Buie nearly took down Illinois himself, but the lack of a scoring partner to assist when opponents keyed in on him was absolutely what did Northwestern in. Even Chris Collins agreed with that as the biggest reason for the loss after the game.

“We could never really get complimentary scoring,” Collins said. “Boo had it going… but in order to win on the road against really good teams, you’ve got to have balanced scoring.”

You could chalk it down to the defense collapsing or the Illini having a great talent in Terrence Shannon Jr. that came alive in the second, but the fact of the matter was that non-Buie Northwestern could not make shots down the stretch when it mattered.

There are three games to go, and Buie looks better than ever. For the rest of the team, this game should serve as a wakeup call. This should no longer be a team that’s desperately trying to reach the tournament, but rather a group that’s dialed in with their sights set on going far in March play and causing havoc.

It’s no longer playtime. With a loss Sunday to Maryland, Northwestern would risk losing its double-bye spot in the Big Ten Tournament, which could be detrimental to its hopes of a conference title. An early tournament exit could also mean a lack of momentum heading toward March Madness, which would point to an early exit in the big tourney as well.

Is this an overreaction? Maybe. Is the sky falling? Likely not, but we’ll be able to tell in about two days.

After all, what are the Cardiac ‘Cats without a bit of late-season panic?