SACRAMENTO — At Northwestern’s Selection Sunday party at Welsh-Ryan Arena, Chris Collins said that a one-song dance wasn’t fun. Much to his enjoyment, these ‘Cats will keep on dancing.
No. 7-seed Northwestern (22-11, 12-8 B1G) defeated the No. 10-seed Boise State Broncos (24-10, 13-5 Mountain West) 75-67 to advance to the Round of 32 and secure its first NCAA Men’s Tournament victory in almost six years. It was a contest marked by its constant scoring, almost the total opposite of the defensive slugfest that many expected from both teams.
Leading Northwestern’s most balanced scoring attack in over a month, Boo Buie scored 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting, becoming the second Northwestern player after Bryant McIntosh to score over 20 points in an NCAA Tournament game. He also added five rebounds and five assists.
Three other Wildcats reached double figures. Chase Audige dropped 20 points with a 5-of-12 mark, including three three-pointers. Ty Berry also put up one of his best games of the season, shooting 3-of-4 from three-point land and 5-of-7 from the field to put up 13 points. Brooks Barnhizer also added 10 points with a 4-of-10 mark from the field.
The Broncos also shot well from the field, making 40% of attempts. Max Rice led Boise State with 17 points, while Naje Smith, Chibuzo Agbo and Marcus Shaver Jr. contributed 12 apiece.
After a few misses on both ends, Matthew Nicholson got the scoring action started with an and-one in a jam-packed paint. Audige soon blew past his defender for a layup of his own. While Boise State was able to get on the board on the following possession with anAgbo three, NU only added to its hot offensive start by answering with a Robbie Beran trey to go up 8-3 on the Broncos.
Despite its cold shooting start, Boise State hammered the offensive boards, picking up three in the first four minutes of play. It culminated in another Agbo three, during which he picked up a technical foul for flopping. Coming out of the under-16, Buie hit one from the charity stripe to give the ‘Cats an 11-8 lead.
A tipped pass by Beran led to another Buie score. NU extended its lead when Brooks Barnhizer somehow snagged a putback off an Audige miss, and seized even more momentum when the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Finalist clogged a passing lane and allowed Nick Martinelli to finish a fastbreak layup. With that bucket, the ‘Cats took a 17-8 lead with a little over 13 minutes to go.
Northwestern couldn’t have started much better offensively. The Wildcats forced five turnovers in the first eight minutes, jumpstarting the team’s transition scoring. Everyone seemed to be getting involved — both as playmakers or scorers — and most of NU generated most of its offensive attack without much early scoring from Buie. Chris Collins was even able to give the star guard a breather early in the game.
However, the Broncos added three layups going into the under-12, which cut Northwestern’s lead to 20-14. Naje Smith’s poster dunk over Beran put another dent into the edge, but Buie responded with a layup on the other end. Barnhizer regained momentum with a post hook, which put the Wildcats up 24-16.
Following a few misses, Smith got the Bronco faithful going again with another ridiculous dunk, throwing down a reverse jam. Boise State continued to look like the Idaho chapter of Phi Slamma Jamma after Lukas Milner slammed another dunk home, but Berry answered with a three-pointer.
Fittingly, given the game was played at the home of the Sacramento Kings, both teams continued to display NBA-like athleticism. Buie and Shaver traded acrobatic layups before Berry drained another trey to give Northwestern a 32-26 lead. Out of the under-four, though, Rice responded with a long bomb of his own as the shot clock expired.
As Buie drew a foul on the next possession, Shaver went down hard, appearing to injure his leg. The Boise State guard hobbled off the floor with assistance, heading straight to the locker room. In their first possessions without him, the Broncos continued to click on offense, though, as Smith buried another three after a Buie layup to cut the Northwestern lead to 36-32.
Barnhizer added to Northwestern’s total with two more free throws, giving Northwestern its highest first-half scoring output since its home win over Indiana on Feb. 15. The ‘Cats took a 38-32 lead into halftime, with Buie and Audige combining for 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting.
What may have been even more important, however, was that Berry and Barnhizer each scored six points. For Boise State, Agbo and Smith deposited 10 and nine points, respectively, and hit three of the Broncos’ four three-pointers in the half. The constant scoring responses contributed to a tempo that was almost exactly the opposite of the slow, defensive rock fight that most expected from these teams entering the game.
The Broncos drew first blood in the second half with Rice’s second three, and Tyson Degenhart cut the Northwestern lead to one with a layup. After Nicholson responded with a bucket of his own, Rice hit another shot from long range to tie the score at 40-40. Not to be outdone, Audige swished a corner three on the other end to regain the lead.
After two free throws from Rice, the three-point party kept on going when Berry made his third triple off a slick feed from Buie. It gave Northwestern a 46-42 lead going into the under-16.
Out of the stoppage, Berry swished a midrange shot to reach double digits in scoring on the day. Soon after, though, Rice hit 10 for the half. The redshirt senior made a fastbreak layup and converted a turnaround jumper. It forced Collins to call another timeout and cut the Northwestern lead to 48-46 with 12:38 to go.
Buie immediately made a layup, and then dropped an and-one floater to put Northwestern back up by six. He couldn’t finish the three-point play, and neither could Dengehart after he drew a Barnhizer foul while converting a layup.
Shaver — who re-entered the game early in the second half — cut Boise State’s deficit to two with a floater of his own. But Buie, who continued to hand down response after response, buried another three-pointer on the ensuing possession.
Boise State struggled from the field, going on a stretch where it went 1-of-10, but Agbo kept the Broncos chugging along with a putback. That didn’t stop Audige from unleashing a powerful blow of his own, as he rattled home another three-pointer heading into the under-eight. It gave Northwestern a 58-52 edge with 6:40 to go in the contest.
Two free throws from Shaver cut the lead to two, but Audige then drained two of his own. However, Degenhart responded with an and-one dunk on a putback. After that, Buie sent this writer into the depths of the Thesaurus to find synonyms for “response” after he hit another layup on the following possession.
Berry kept up his great day with another bucket, giving Northwestern a 64-56 edge. Although Boise State continued to crash the boards on offense, it couldn’t get anything to fall for a few minutes. Smith’s charging foul on a bang-bang play with Buie added fuel to the fire, as NU held its eight-point lead at the under-four.
That didn’t stop the momentum, as Barnhizer put up a one-handed putback to bring the Wildcat lead to double digits. From there, both teams traded free throws throughout the remainder of the game. Even with the late-game madness that ensued in earlier games, Northwestern closed out the contest without much pressure.
The Wildcats will await the winner of the game between No. 2-seed UCLA and No. 15-seed UNC Asheville in the Round of 32 at the Golden 1 Center on Saturday. The game’s start time is yet to be determined.