Maybe Northwestern basketball is becoming the next set Cardiac ‘Cats.
Inside a rowdy Kohl Center, Northwestern (16-7, 7-5 B1G) outlasted Wisconsin (13-9, 5-7) 54-52 in a low-scoring, defense-heavy affair. Boo Buie paced NU with 13, while Chase Audige added 11; also of note were eight each for Robbie Beran and Brooks Barnhizer. For the home Badgers, Chucky Hepburn led the way with 17, and Connor Essegian notched 15 points on five threes.
The Badgers controlled the opening tip, and Matt Nicholson picked up his first foul less than 30 seconds into the game. However, Robbie Beran opened the scoring with a deep, straightaway three to put NU up 3-0, and Audige got a reverse layup to fall. But, the Badgers buried back-to-back triples to bring the game to one, until a deep three by Buie and an alley-oop to a wide-open Beran put Northwestern back up 12-6 five minutes into the first half.
Out of the media timeout, Audige hit from the mid-range; however, Hepburn responded on the other end with a spinning layup, despite being tightly guarded by Ty Berry. As the teams traded empty possessions, an errant pass by Brooks Barnhizer led to NU’s first turnover of the game; although, Wisconsin could not capitalize off the ‘Cats mishap, as Northwestern forced a shot-clock violation: holding the Wildcats lead at 14-8 with 12 minutes left to play in the half.
Following the break, Tydus Verhoeven was like a window washer, cleaning the glass with two offensive rebounds on the ‘Cats’ offensive possession, but NU wasted the extra opportunities with a shot-clock violation. The Badgers capitalized on the Wildcats’ offensive struggles to cut the lead to three, but a backdoor slip by Nick Martinelli — after a diving save by Beran — ended the ‘Cats’ scoreless streak of over three minutes.
In response to going scoreless, Northwestern found the bottom of the net on three straight offensive possessions. On the defensive end, Nicholson recovered a loose ball, and the big man took it coast-to-coast for a massive two-hand jam. Beran also got in on the defensive fun, running down the floor for a massive chase-down block, denying Hepburn at the rim, much to the chagrin of Badger fans inside the Kohl Center. Sprinting down the floor after the block, Beran was fouled with Northwestern leading 22-15 with six minutes left in the half.
Out of the inbound, Beran threw the ball to the awaiting arms of Kamari McGee, who promptly converted an easy shot. The momentum shifted heavily toward Wisconsin, as Northwestern had another three-plus minute scoring drought, allowing Wisco to go on a 6-0 run and cut the Wildcats' lead to 22-21 with four minutes left.
Following the break, Northwestern’s defense stood strong while the offense could not buy a bucket. Buie finally ended the ‘Cats’ five-minute scoring drought with a tough floater, and a fadeaway by Barnhizer put NU back up five, as the Badgers went scoreless for over four minutes themselves. Yet, another bad decision by Northwestern cost it points, as Barnhizer threw up a jumper with ten seconds in the half with the shot clock off, allowing Tyler Wahl to speed down the court to lay it in at the buzzer and send both teams to the locker room with Northwestern leading 26-23.
Northwestern’s offensive woes continued after coming out of the locker room, as the ‘Cats came up empty on their first two trips down the floor, and a three by Hepburn tied the game. On NU’s ensuing possession, Nicholson picked up his third foul and had to sit, and another three by Essegian Connor Essegian gave the Badgers their first lead of the game. Verhoeven brought NU to back within one, and a pair of free throws put the ‘Cats back ahead 30-29, but one more triple by Essegian gave Wisconsin a 32-30 advantage with 14:43 left to play.
Out of the break, Barnhizer powered his way to the rim to knot the game even at 32-32, but both teams traded empty possessions until Martinelli’s hook shot put the ‘Cats up two with 12 minutes to play.
Following two long timeouts, Audige got a three to rattle around and somehow in to extend the NU lead to five. Hepburn cut the advantage back to two on a corner three, but Buie’s signature floater pushed Northwestern’s lead back to 39-35 with under 10 minutes to play.
Steven Crowl and Buie traded buckets after the timeout, and a pair of free throws by Hepburn left NU’s lead at just 41-39 with eight minutes to go.
Neither team could get on a run, as both teams exchanged shots with seven minutes to play in the half. Barnhizer snuck a layup by to push the NU lead to three, and a corner three by Beran quieted a raucous Kohl Center momentarily, but an easy put-back by Carter Gilmore brought the crowd roaring. Another three by Essegian pulled Wisconsin within one, and Chris Collins called a timeout to try and stop the bleeding.
Out of the break, Buie could not connect from the line, and a turnaround jump shot by Hepburn put the Badgers back in front; however, Audige responded with a fadeaway of his own to establish Northwestern ahead once again. On NU’s next possession, Buie lost a handle, turned it over and committed a foul in the process. To no harm to the Wildcats, however, Essegian could not make his one-and-one attempt. After both teams could not find the basket, Collins called a 30-second time-out as NU led 50-49 with 1:12 left.
Out of the timeout, Audige barreled through Max Klesmit but was called for an offensive foul, much to the ire of Chris Collins. Hepburn buried a fade away to retake the lead, but Buie drew a foul and made both free throws to put the ‘Cats up 52-51, with 30 seconds left. On the defensive end, Barnhizer sent a massive block and Verhoeven grabbed the rebound while being fouled but did not convert the free throw as the lead held at one.
On the Wisconsin possession, Buie forced an off-balance shot by Hepburn that fell short of the rim, and the loose ball found its way to No. 0, who was fouled. Buie sank the pair of free throws that gave Northwestern a 54-51 lead with 4.7 seconds remaining on the clock.
Northwestern decided to foul Klesmit to make the Badgers shoot two instead of letting Wisconsin attempt a three. Klesmit made the first and intentionally missed the second, but it was to no avail, as Audige grabbed the board as time expired to seal a 54-52 victory.
Northwestern returns to action Thursday in Columbus, Ohio to battle Ohio State. Tip is set for 7 p.m. CT.