Rapid Recap: Northwestern 66, Liberty 52


Daily file photo by Angeli Mittal

Junior guard Ty Berry pushes the ball up the floor. Berry poured in 19 points and added four steals in Northwestern’s 66-52 win over Liberty Tuesday.

Alex Cervantes, Assistant Sports Editor

Traveling south of the border, Northwestern took on Liberty with a chance to advance to the Riviera Division championship game of the Cancun Challenge. 

It was not a complete performance by any stretch, but another explosive second half propelled the Wildcats (5-0, 0-0 Big Ten) to a 66-52 victory over the Flames (2-3, 0-0 ASUN).

Flailing arms, an exasperated face and a general sense of confusion at times characterized the experience of coach Chris Collins in Cancun Tuesday. 

This wasn’t without reason. Neither team hit a bucket in the game’s opening four minutes. Led by dynamic scoring guard Darius McGhee, Liberty opened up a 12-point lead with less than six minutes left in the first half. But the Cats’ defense, which has been their calling card in the season’s infancy, stood strong to close the half. The Flames recorded just two points in the rest of the opening frame, as NU trimmed the deficit to one point at the intermission.

After the Cats took their first lead of the game out of the break, it was quickly erased by the Flames, before Collins’ side reclaimed it just as fast. Riding a 14-0 run over five minutes of action — a spurt that featured five different scorers — allowed NU to truly take hold of the contest for the first time. The Cats would continue to pile it on while also leaning on its stout defense, eventually winning by a comfortable 14-point margin.

Here are three takeaways from NU’s bout with Liberty.

  1. Final five minutes of the first half keep NU alive

As the Cats faced a 27-15 deficit in the first half, all momentum seemed to be favoring the team in red. 

But, in desperation mode with the half winding to a close, the Cats flipped a switch. The tandem efforts of junior guard Ty Berry and sophomore guard Brooks Barnhizer in particular sparked NU’s 13-2 run to close the opening frame.

Barnhizer, whose full impact isn’t captured by the box score, got a steal and a quick bucket to cut the lead to 10 points. His defensive effort ignited the Cats’ late charge, nabbing three steals in a span of 1:11. Enabled by the collective increase in defensive intensity and needing buckets offensively, Berry went on his own 6-0 scoring run in just 32 seconds. Four made free throws and a jumper at the 1:32 mark trimmed Liberty’s lead to 27-25. 

After a first half in which NU shot 35.7% from the field and 25% from beyond the arc, the efforts of Barnhizer and Berry swung the game’s momentum in favor of the Cats at the intermission.

  1. Buie struggles; Berry and Audige step up in his stead

Coming off the heels of a season-high 28 points in NU’s gritty eight-point victory against Purdue Fort Wayne last Friday, senior guard Boo Buie was shut down by the Flames and tallied just five points on 1-for-8 shooting from the field.

With the Flames holding Buie quiet, Berry and redshirt senior guard Chase Audige shouldered the offensive load for NU. Audige has been hit-or-miss, quite literally, for the Cats this season. But the New York native put early struggles behind him, leading NU with 20 points on an efficient 7-of-11 shooting, including 3-of-5 from deep. He’ll need to be more careful with the ball after posting four turnovers, yet the shotmaking and offensive creation — he had five assists — proved big for the Cats.

Berry, who helped ignite the closing first half run, poured in 19 points. Ultimately, it was Berry’s defensive energy — he had four steals — and shotmaking from both three-point range and the charity stripe that helped push this team to victory alongside the efforts of Audige.

  1. NU books date with No. 13 Auburn

The Cats and Tigers will return to the court in less than 24 hours for the two teams’ first-ever meeting with a chance to leave Cancun with a trophy.

The clash provides an excellent chance for the Cats to boost their non-conference resume. Nevertheless, it will be no small task. Fresh off a 21-point win over Bradley, Auburn has made quick work of its opponents in the early season. Coach Bruce Pearl’s squad, led by guard Wendell Green Jr. and forward Johni Broome, boasts a top-25 offense and top-15 defense nationally according to KenPom.com. 

Favored in its five previous contests, NU will take the court Wednesday as a major underdog. The Cats’ defense has been their identity so far this season, but the Tigers are going to test this team like no other squad has. Time to find out what this bunch is truly made of. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @CervantesPAlex 

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