Men’s Basketball: Northwestern holds on for its first Big Ten win of the season

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Men’s Basketball: Northwestern holds on for its first Big Ten win of the season

Miller Kopp follows through on a shot. The sophomore scored a team-high 15 points in Saturday’s win over Nebraska.

Miller Kopp follows through on a shot. The sophomore scored a team-high 15 points in Saturday’s win over Nebraska.

Joshua Hoffman/The Daily Northwestern

Miller Kopp follows through on a shot. The sophomore scored a team-high 15 points in Saturday’s win over Nebraska.

Joshua Hoffman/The Daily Northwestern

Joshua Hoffman/The Daily Northwestern

Miller Kopp follows through on a shot. The sophomore scored a team-high 15 points in Saturday’s win over Nebraska.

Charlie Goldsmith, Sports Editor

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Miller Kopp had never been in a moment this big.

Even though Kopp is one of Northwestern’s most experienced players, the sophomore forward had never taken a shot as important as this one. The Wildcats led Nebraska by 3 points with nine seconds left, and Kopp was at the free-throw line to take two shots that could put the game away.

He made both, clinching NU’s (6-9, 1-4 Big Ten) 62-57 win over the Cornhuskers (7-9, 2-3) Saturday. After the final buzzer sounded, coach Chris Collins ran up to Kopp and hugged him to celebrate a long-awaited win and the team’s most impressive clutch performance of the season.

“You can’t practice that,” Collins said. “When you’re in the environment, tired from playing 37 minutes and you’re in a packed arena playing a good opponent, there’s game pressure in every way, shape or form. The only way you can get better is by going out there and succeeding.”

The Cats were in a similar position last Wednesday against Indiana, but NU coughed up a lead in the final few minutes to lose its fifth game in a row by single digits. The Cats hadn’t won a game that came down to the last minute all season, and Kopp and sophomore forward Pete Nance barely played in both of NU’s close wins last year.

Kopp had a team-high 15 points against Nebraska, but that performance might have been for nothing if he didn’t make both free throws at the end. In the last four minutes, the Cornhuskers cut a 12-point deficit all the way down to 3 points as the Cats’ offense went silent.

NU was on the verge of losing another close game and remaining the only winless team in Big Ten play. But then Kopp responded to the game pressure and hit two free throws with nine seconds left to secure the win.

“We wanted to come out in the game and let everyone know just by watching us that we wanted it really bad,” Kopp said. “That was our mindset coming into the game.”

It took a poor second-half performance from the Cats for the game to be close at the end. NU led by 15 points at halftime after making eight threes in the opening 20 minutes, and the Cats still led by double-digits with four minutes left in the second half.

Sophomore guard Cam Mack jolted Nebraska’s offense at the end and brought the team back into the game. Mack led the Cornhuskers with 11 points, but the Cats prevented him from getting the ball on Nebraska’s final possession.

Graduate transfer guard Pat Spencer continued to be a strong replacement for injured freshman guard Boo Buie, finishing with 14 points, eight rebounds and two assists. Freshman forward Robbie Beran scored a career-high 10 points and also had 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season.

After the game, Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg said he noticed the Cats’ young core gelling and evolving into a team than will be competitive in the Big Ten.

“They’ve got unbelievable length, they’ve got athleticism and they can shoot,” Hoiberg said. “(Collins) has done an unbelievable job of building this team with really good young players that are only going to get better. With Boo Buie being out, once they get him back in the lineup, this is going to be a team that can climb up the rankings very quickly.”

Email: charliegoldsmith2021@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @2021_charlie

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