Rapid Recap: Northwestern 71, Nebraska 69


Gabe Bider/The Daily Northwestern

Senior forward Pete Nance and redshirt junior guard Chase Audige hug. Northwestern’s season lived to see another day as the Wildcats won 71-69 against Nebraska in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.

Alex Cervantes, Reporter

Men’s Basketball

It’s really hard to beat a team three times in a season, and Northwestern entered the first round of the Big Ten Tournament having already beaten its opponent, 13-seed Nebraska, twice.

Luckily for the Wildcats, that theory failed to hold true as they completed a miraculous second-half comeback to win 71-69.

NU got off to a cold start, missing its first four attempts from the field before senior forward Pete Nance found first-year guard Julian Roper II on a cut to put the Cats on the scoreboard. The Cornhuskers arrived in Indianapolis riding a three-game win streak. Out of the gate, Nebraska looked like a different team, than the one NU had beaten by 24 and 12 points, respectively, in the first two meetings.

The Cats took their first lead of the game behind a drive-and-kick from sophomore guard Ty Berry to redshirt junior guard Chase Audige. Audige canned the triple, and shortly after Berry hit a three of his own to increase the lead to 13-10.

Nebraska guard Alonzo Verge Jr., fresh off a 26-point performance in an upset win over then-No. 10 Wisconsin, had his fingerprints on the game early. Verge stuffed the stat sheet in the opening 20 minutes, recording nine points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals. The Chicago native led a Cornhusker defensive effort which was engaged from the jump, swallowing up driving lanes and steals the ball eight times in the first half.

A 7-2 spurt from Nebraska saw its advantage climb to 24-18 as coach Chris Collins called a timeout to stop the bleeding. The wound not only persisted, but grew, as Nebraska stretched the lead to 39-25 by halftime.

NU might’ve viewed the first half merely as a Monty Python flesh wound, but the Cats were in desperate need of a blood transfusion at the intermission.

NU jumped out of the break with an 8-2 run to trim the lead to eight points. Nebraska countered, however, opening up its largest lead of the game at 50-35, behind buckets from Verge, Trey McGowens and Kobe Webster.

But just as the Cats were seemingly on the ropes, they were injected with a spark. Five players — Roper, Nance, Berry, Boo Buie and Elyjah Williams — found the scoresheet. Buie capped off the 14-0 run, burying a corner 3-pointer — his first made three of the game — and stomping triumphantly to halfcourt as Nebraska called timeout.

The pair of squads continued to exchange blows throughout the second half, with the Cornhuskers leading by just three points at the under-eight timeout.

A pair of consecutive 3-pointers from Nance and Buie gave NU its first lead since the first half. Nebraska quickly retook the lead behind two free throws from Derrick Walker, before a patented Ryan Young impact sequence took hold. Young grabbed a couple of offensive boards, hit a layup and one of three free throws to provide the Cats with a two-point advantage at the under-four timeout.

And Buie, for all the bouts of questionable shot selection, was critical in the second half. Coming off of a screen, the Albany native nailed the game’s most important shot at that point: a top of the key, 3-pointer to give NU a 69-65 lead.

The Cornhuskers were able to tie the game at 69 a piece, before Audige stepped to the line for a pair of free throws. He missed the first, but canned the second as Verge and Nebraska raced up the floor down by one. It was there, in the middle of the paint, that Buie made his biggest impact on the game: he stepped in front of Verge and drew a charge to give the ball back to the Cats.

Buie made one of two and NU was able to walk out of Gainbridge Fieldhouse with a win on day one of the Big Ten Tournament. Survive and advance.


1. Nebraska defense engaged from the jump in first half, but falls off in second

Entering Wednesday’s contest, Nebraska opponents averaged 78.8 points per game, a mark which placed the Cornhuskers 348th out of 358 D-I teams in points allowed. NU enjoyed splendid offensive outputs against the Cornhuskers, tallying 87 and 77 points in both regular season matchups. But this Nebraska team was a different one than the one the Cats faced in February. NU was unable to settle into any semblance of a rhythm offensively, as Trey McGowens and Verge made life difficult for the Cats’ backcourt. Audige shot 2-for-11 from the field, while Buie struggled throughout the first period, scoring his first points from the free throw line with under a minute left. In the second half, it was a total reversal, though. NU was shot 53.3% from the field, 54.5% from beyond the arc, and most importantly, hit free throws late.

2. Verge wins round three battle versus Buie statistically, but not on the court

While they didn’t match up defensively against one another, the Big Ten first opener pitted two streaky playmakers against each other. Nebraska’s Verge got the better of NU’s Buie on this occasion, recording an all-around effort of 21 points, seven boards and nine assists. Buie struggled from the field, shooting 4-for-11 from the field, but hit some critical shots in big moments for the Cats in the second half and drew a charge on Verge late to virtually seal the game.

3. Northwestern’s season lives to see another day

Survive and advance, folks, that’s what March is all about. The Cats, against all odds, overcame a 20-point second half deficit to move onto the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. This NU squad has gotten plenty of shtick for its late game performances, but when it counted most, Collins and Chicago’s Big Ten team got it done.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @CervantesPAlex

Related Stories:

Rapid Recap: Northwestern 75, Minnesota 62
Northwestern men’s basketball struggles in loss to No. 24 Iowa
Northwestern men’s basketball falls short against No. 24 Iowa 82-61