Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
If there’s not a sign with those words emblazoned outside Welsh-Ryan Arena, there should be.
Northwestern (16-7, 7-5 B1G) earned its 12th home win of the year over fellow March Madness hopeful Nebraska (16-8, 6-7 B1G) with a wire-to-wire 80-68 victory. Despite missing Ty Berry for the entirety of the second half, Northwestern’s offense maintained its hot scoring thanks to a 44% clip from beyond the arc. Boo Buie led the way with 22 points on 6-of-13 shooting (including 4-of-7 from distance), and Ryan Langborg, Brooks Barnhizer, and Nick Martinelli all also finished in double figures.
For the Cornhuskers, it seemed like Juwan Gary was the only one who made the trip. His 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting did occasionally burn the Northwestern defense, but the rest of his teammates just couldn't seem to find the net. Nebraska shot 47% from the field but just 33% from three-point land, the latter well below their season average. The Cornhuskers also lost the rebound battle 36-29 and the turnover battle 17-9.
Langborg opened the scoring just under a minute into the game with a left-wing three, and then Buie hit a tough fallaway to push the lead to five. 90 seconds later, Buie forced a turnover thanks to stifling defense on the Cornhuskers’ Brice Williams, then canned a triple from the right side.
But, Nebraska’s paint presence kept it in it early, with a pair of layups from Gary and Williams. However, made baskets were hard to come by for both squads. By the time the under-16 timeout hit, the teams had combined to hit just seven of their 19 field goal attempts. The difference in a 10-6 affair was Northwestern’s pair of three pointers.
The offenses started to pick up after that, sparked mostly by lots of drives to the paint. Courtesy of Buie, Brooks Barnhizer and Luke Hunger, Northwestern scored three straight baskets in the paint out of the break. Yet the deficit was actually trimmed to three, via a dunk from Gary and an acrobatic and-one from Jamarques Lawrence. That lead would be quickly extended, though, thanks to a tricky Langborg lay-in that drew a foul and sent the student section into a frenzy at the under-12.
With the free throw out of the break, Langborg pushed the lead to 19-13, tying the largest of the night for the Wildcats. Northwestern then forced a shot clock violation, leading to a straight-on triple from Ty Berry. Two possessions later, Langborg added his second three-pointer of the game, which was immediately followed up by a Buie block. The Wildcats ran quickly the other way, and Berry spotted up from deep in the right wing.
The shot went in. The arena got loud. Fred Hoiberg called timeout. The 28-15 lead was built by a 12-2 run in which Northwestern hit five of its six attempts from the field. Keisei Tominaga managed to staunch the bleeding by canning three consecutive free throws, but Buie responded by taking him for a dance on the left corner and delivering a three pointer over his All-Big Ten counterpart.
The Wildcats’ scorching shooting built a 33-21 lead at the under-8 timeout. Northwestern made 13 of its 25 shots and was an astounding 6-of-10 from beyond the arc. The Huskers’ shooting was well above average as well, but a 1-of-4 mark from three-point land and a 13-6 rebound margin in favor of the Wildcats put the visitors in a massive hole.
Buie continued to beat Tominaga at his own game, drilling another stepback right in Tominaga’s face. It seemed as though Buie had been informed another All-Big Ten guard was in attendance, and Buie wanted to make sure the interloper knew whose territory Welsh-Ryan Arena was. An air ball from Tominaga a few possessions later did not help the Cornhusker’s cause.
The Wildcat defense also seemed to take the matchup personally, holding the visitors without a made field goal for nearly four minutes. Another Buie triple ballooned the lead to 17, and while Gary continued to drive the hoop with aplomb (as evidenced by his 13 points), the score still sat at 42-27 with a little over three minutes to play in the opening half.
Aside from Buie’s spectacular shot-making, the Wildcat offense remained inconsistent, partially due to the absence of Ty Berry. The senior guard scored six points in 11 minutes of first half action, but went to the locker room with just under nine minutes to play in the first frame. Langborg proved a very capable second option in Berry’s absence, slicing to the hoop for a layup after a Buie steal. An offensive foul on Nebraska’s C.J. Wilcher sealed a three minute-long field goal drought to close the half for the Cornhuskers, and a Buie free throw made the halftime score 47-31 in favor of the home team.
Buie and Langborg poured in 30 points combined, shooting 6-of-11 from beyond the arc as a pair. Northwestern also held comfortable edges in the rebounding (18-13) and turnover (7-2) departments. For the Cornhuskers, the lone saving grace was Juwan Gary, who had 13 first half points on 5-of-8 shooting. Outside of Gary, Nebraska shot just 5-of-13 in the first half for 18 points, and seven of those came from the charity stripe. Brice Williams, Rienk Mast and Keisei Tominaga, who combined for 41 points per game entering the contest, had just seven points at the half.
Northwestern’s offense was marred by inconsistency out of the break, with the team committing back-to-back offensive fouls. Nebraska, meanwhile, began to heat up, with a Tominaga bank shot followed by a Mast three-pointer cutting the lead to just 12. Williams also picked things up, hitting a tough fadeaway from the baseline over multiple defenders. Due partially to some rough Northwestern shooting, Nebraska successfully trimmed the lead to 52-40 by the under-16.
The scoring struggles continued after the timeout, partially because Northwestern began making a concerted effort to slow things down. Both teams went on scoring droughts of over two minutes before Langborg broke Northwestern’s with a sweet stepback at the elbow. Nebraska’s went over three minutes before Williams hit a deep three from the left wing, but the lead remained double digits nonetheless.
Buie finally got on the second half board with a pair of free throws, and Martinelli followed it up with a three pointer from the right wing. A Buie collision with Gary while running for a rebound caused Buie to lose his headband and also sent the game to the under-12 timeout. With 11:45 to go, Northwestern held a 59-43 lead and appeared to be well on its way to its seventh Big Ten win.
That hope was only increased by another Martinelli three-pointer shortly after the break. It was his second trey of the game, making the team as a whole 11-of-22 from beyond the arc. Nebraska, meanwhile, couldn’t seem to hit a stalk in a cornfield, going over three minutes without a point. Martinelli continued to sauce up the Nebraska defense, getting great position to get a layup that pushed the lead to 21 and forced a Nebraska timeout. With just 9 minutes to play, Northwestern had built a 64-43 lead thanks to a 10-0 run.
The Cornhusker scoring drought stretched across five minutes and three timeouts before Sam Hoiberg broke it with a free throw. The field goal dry spell would continue, extending for five minutes and 50 seconds before a Lawrence layup mercifully ended it. Lawrence then knocked down a three-pointer, forcing a Northwestern timeout, but despite the 7-0 Nebraska run (catalyzed by a three-minute Wildcat drought), the lead was still 14.
Northwestern’s offensive futility wasn’t stemmed by the timeout. Despite another Martinelli floater, the Wildcats scored just three points in a five-minute span after the Nebraska timeout. Luckily for the ‘Cats, though, the Cornhuskers’ only consistent source of offense was free throws. That meant when yet another Martinelli make was followed by a Barnhizer breakaway dunk, the night was all but over. Northwestern’s 71-55 lead heading into the under-4 timeout earned the squad a standing ovation from a rollicking Welsh-Ryan Arena, but even that wasn’t loud enough to wake up the Cornhuskers’ dormant offense.
With both squads playing out the string, any sort of offensive action remaining basically died. Nebraska made a late charge because of Lawrence and Williams, but never was able to cut the deficit to under nine in the second half. Thanks to fouls, the game slogged on far longer than it should have, with the two teams taking 12 free throws combined over the last 90 seconds. The final score sat at 80-68 Northwestern.
Northwestern looks to make it two wins in a row at home when it welcomes in Penn State on Super Bowl Sunday. Tip is set for 12 p.m. CT.