Winning on the road in the Big Ten remains nearly impossible.
Northwestern (13-5, 4-3 Big Ten) fell to Nebraska (14-5, 4-4 B1G) in a battle between two top-60 KenPom teams. Although they went on a 10-0 comeback run down the stretch after trailing by 11 points, the ‘Cats couldn’t capitalize on their momentum to take control of the game for good.
A balanced attack propelled the Cornhuskers, who had five scorers notch double figures. Josiah Allick feasted on Northwestern’s interior defense to lead the way with 15 points on 4-of-5 shooting, and he hit seven of his eight free throws. Keisei Tominaga contributed 14, including a game-sealing three-pointer in the final seconds, while Brice Williams, Jamarques Lawrence and C.J. Wilcher scored 12, 10 and 10, respectively.
For the ‘Cats, Brooks Barnhizer may have played the best game of his career on both ends of the floor. On 9-of-15 shooting, he erupted for 24 points, with 18 of those coming in the second half. He also added seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks. He and Ryan Langborg, who dropped 15, helped Northwestern stay in the game in spite of a rough outing for Boo Buie. No. 0 only scored nine points on 2-of-15 shooting, adding seven assists.
Just like the teams’ matchup last year, it snowed threes in Pinnacle Bank Arena at the start of the contest. All four of Northwestern’s first four buckets came from beyond the arc, with two coming from Langborg. However, Nebraska matched that output by torching NU’s paint defense. Allick, who started in place of the injured Juwan Gary, racked up eight points in the first five minutes of action. He and Wilcher helped the Cornhuskers earn an 18-16 lead at the under-12.
At that point, Northwestern’s shooting began to go cold. Over an eight-minute stretch, it shot just 2-of-13 from the field. While the ‘Cats were able to force nine turnovers in the first half — which didn’t even include a great hustle play from Barnhizer in which he jumped a passing lane — those struggles prevented NU from developing much momentum.
Its interior defense also continued to struggle. Allick and Rienk Mast found room inside by confusing Northwestern defenders off pick-and-rolls, and Nebraska’s guards began to locate more space to operate off the dribble. A coast-to-coast layup from Williams punctuated a 6-0 run for the Huskers, giving them a 30-24 lead and forcing Chris Collins to call a timeout with 4:34 to go in the half.
The ‘Cats didn’t fold, though. Nick Martinelli and Barnhizer each buried threes, with No. 13 draining one from the corner as the shot clock expired to cut NU’s deficit to 33-30 with 3:27 left in the first period. Even Matthew Nicholson created for himself, as a dribble-drive and spinning layup from the big man answered a midrange jumper from Lawrence.
However, the Wildcats ended the half on a sour note, as Nicholson fouled Williams with three-tenths of a second left as he was trying to convert a buzzer-beating three. The Nebraska guard drained two of three at the line, which gave his team a 39-35 lead heading into the break.
Buie shot just 1-of-6 in the first half with four points. As a team, Northwestern couldn’t convert inside; it made seven of 15 threes and went 5-of-14 on twos. On the other hand, the Huskers feasted inside, as they shot about 70% for the half. Even though NU won the turnover battle 9-4, its rough shooting inside and its interior defense put it behind the eight-ball.
Nebraska roared out to a 10-3 run to start the second half. Lawrence nailed two triples, while Mast and Allick continued to eat in the paint. Lawrence’s second three made it a 49-38 game, and prompted Collins to call a timeout with 17:27 to play.
Barnhizer wouldn’t let the game get away from the ‘Cats, though. He put up two scores on two possessions, with the second coming off a block of a Wilcher three-pointer. That set the tone for a phenomenal second half from the junior on both ends of the floor. After Langborg drilled another three, Barnhizer got to the line for two free throws to cut the deficit to 53-49 with just over 13 minutes to play.
Nebraska worked its way to the line to maintain its lead, but Northwestern hung in. Buie hit his first three of the game to trim the deficit to two. While Eli Rice, Mast and Sam Hoiberg sparked a brief 8-0 run to extend the Huskers’ lead back to 10, Barnhizer responded with a bucket of his own.
All hope looked lost when Williams nailed another triple to get the game to 65-54 Nebraska. However, Barnhizer and NU just didn’t go away. The Wildcats embarked on a 10-0 run, smothering the Huskers on the other end. Northwestern punctuated the run with two dunks: one from Nicholson and another from No. 13 after a steal on the other end. It cut UNL’s lead to just 65-64 with 6:35 left. A Langborg free throw then evened the score at 65.
From there, though, Northwestern just couldn’t seize control of the game for good. Three go-ahead long-range attempts from Berry, Langborg and Buie all rimmed out. The Huskers were able to make winning plays on the other hand, with a putback from Tominaga on a loose ball proving to be crucial. After two more free throws from him and another bucket from Barnhizer, the Cornhuskers’ lead stood at 71-67 with 2:13 to go.
Northwestern wouldn’t make another field goal the rest of the way. While Buie converted two free throws with 49 seconds left to cut the deficit to two, Tominaga put the nail in the coffin with a three-point dagger late in the shot clock. It gave Nebraska a five-point lead with 25 seconds to go, and all but ended the game. Much like it did in Madison, Northwestern just couldn’t capitalize on its resilience in the closing minutes.
The ‘Cats will be back in action on Wednesday night against No. 14 Illinois at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. CT, and you can watch the game on the Big Ten Network.