Rapid Recap: Northwestern 79, Rutgers 78 (OT)


Alyce Brown/The Daily Northwestern

Junior guard Boo Buie attempts to make a pass. Buie had 18 points and 4 assists in Northwestern’s 79-78 win over Rutgers.

Alex Cervantes, Reporter

Entering Tuesday’s matchup against Rutgers, Northwestern was in the middle of its second four-game losing streak of the season. 

Senior forward Pete Nance put the Wildcats (10-10, 3-8 Big Ten) on the board first with a wing triple. Nance, NU’s leading scorer with 16.3 points per game, had 10 points on the night, shooting 3-for-9 from the field. The Ohio native’s efforts, along with redshirt junior guard Chase Audige and junior guard Boo Buie, led the way in a 79-78 win.

Buie started racking up assists early, finding first-year Julian Roper II for a corner 3-pointer and then Audige on a fastbreak dunk. The Cats opened up an early 8-5 lead at the first media timeout. 

The defensive concern for NU coming into the game was figuring out how to quiet potential All-Big Ten swingman Ron Harper Jr. NU was fairly effective in their approach, as he finished the night with 16 points. In the opening minutes of the game, however, it was center Clifford Omoruyi who troubled the Cats. Omoruyi had nine of Rutgers’ 14 points midway through the half.

Scarlet Knights coach Steve Pikiell called a timeout following a quick 6-0 run from NU that saw the Cats’ lead stretch to 23-14. At the under-eight break, NU was shooting an impressive 58.8% from the field, with three scorers – Nance, Buie and Roper – all recording at least five points.

Shooting is contagious, and the Cats were feeling hot in the first half. Led by Roper, who was 2-for-2 from beyond the arc, NU shot 6-for-13 from 3-point range. A quintet of timely free throws from Buie and Nance secured an 18-point advantage for the Cats at the intermission, 43-25.

NU came out of halftime with the same offensive ferocity as it did in the first half. A 9-3 run in the opening three minutes of the half, extended the Cats’ lead to 52-28. Aided by a five-point spurt from Harper Jr. as well as some turnovers and ill-advised shots, Rutgers cut the lead to 17 before a Buie triple briefly stopped the momentum at the under-16 timeout. 

The Scarlet Knights’ full court press and defensive pressure in the halfcourt gave NU a lot of trouble, and soon, the seemingly insurmountable lead had shrunk to 14. But, again, a crucial bucket from the Cats stymied the building momentum, this time courtesy of Nance at the 11:21 mark.

Out of the under-12 timeout, NU was still failing to adjust to the pressure, with Rutgers taking full advantage, continually chipping away at the lead. With just over eight minutes to play, coach Chris Collins was forced into a timeout as the lead dwindled to 10.

Redshirt junior center Ryan Young’s six-point burst provided the Cats with a much-needed offensive lift and briefly extended the lead back to double digits with under five minutes left. Harper Jr.’s and-one finish was another gash into NU’s lead, now sitting at six points. Guard Paul Mulcahy’s trio of free throws trimmed the lead to just three with close to three minutes to play. Mulcahy notched a game-high 31 points for the Scarlet Knights. 

In the waning moments of regulation, senior guard Ryan Greer’s driving layup around Omoruyi handed the Cats a three-point lead. A drive and dish from Mulcahy to Omoruyi in the final seconds tied the game up at 70. Buie’s halfcourt heave slammed off the backcourt with the pair of squads headed to overtime.

At some point one runs out of words to describe such a collapse, and that point has been reached. NU held on in overtime, edging out Rutgers by one. 


  • Julian Roper’s first-half production impressive

Roper, who replaced sophomore guard Ty Berry in the starting five for the Purdue game, posted scoring games of seven, two and zero points in his three starting appearances. He tied his season high of eight points less than 15 minutes into the game against the Scarlet Knights. Roper’s effect on both ends of the floor is critical to the success of the Cats. He finished the night with eight points, four rebounds and five assists.

  • Sharing is caring

NU came into the game against Rutgers averaging 16.7 assists per game, a mark that ranks 16th nationally. The Cats’ ability to share the ball at a high clip was evident against the Scarlet Knights, notching 12 assists on 16 made field goals in the first half. However, hampered early by Rutgers’ press and zone defense to start the second half, NU only recorded five assists. 

  • NU second-half woes persist, struggles to put away Rutgers

At halftime, the Cats held a convincing 18-point lead. Early buckets in the second half pushed the advantage all the way to 24, but the Scarlet Knights’ 2-3 zone and constant defensive pressure proved difficult for NU to manage. Foul trouble, 11 turnovers and shooting woes also persisted and at the final media timeout, the Cats’ lead sat at just seven points. The story of NU’s season has been its failure to close out games and it seemed almost inevitable that such a reality would remain true against Rutgers, but it didn’t. 

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Twitter: @CervantesPAlex 

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