Men’s Basketball: Second-half struggles cause Northwestern to lose first Big Ten road game to Michigan


Angeli Mittal/Daily Senior Staffer

Senior guard Boo Buie closely dribbles the ball. Buie led the team with 22 points in NU’s 85-78 loss.

Aayushya Agarwal, Reporter

ANN ARBOR, MI — A few days off of a gut-wrenching loss at home to Rutgers, Northwestern (12-5, 3-3 Big Ten) hoped to rebound against Michigan (10-7, 4-2 Big Ten) when it traveled to Ann Arbor for a Sunday matinee matchup. Unfortunately, the Cats received their first road loss in Big Ten play, falling to the Wolverines 85-78.

A layup by senior forward Robbie Beran opened scoring for the Cats, who struggled offensively to start the game, shooting 3-of-8 from the field. While defense has been a calling card for the Wildcats all season, the Wolverines kept ticking the score early. By the first four media timeout, NU already saw its deficit as large as seven, with the Wolverines shooting 3-for-4 from deep, compared to the Cats’ 0-for-3 start. 

Coach Chris Collins spoke about the Cats’ unusual defensive struggles during Sunday’s contest. 

“In the second half, it was our inability to get stops when we needed it,” Collins said. “Michigan made more plays than us, made more shots than us, and they did the things that were worthy of winning today.” 

NU received an offensive uplift after a pair of dunks from senior center Matthew Nicholson. Due to early foul trouble in the first few minutes of the contest, the Clarkston, Michigan native had to be subbed out early, leaving the Cats undermanned in the paint. 

While NU saw their deficit grow to as large as 12 halfway through the first half, efficient subsequent possessions on the offensive end and tighter defense helped limit the damage. A three by Beran followed by a fast break dunk by sophomore guard Brooks Barnhizer rejuvenated the Cats and led to a 7-0 run. After a hot start offensively, NU held the Wolverines to six points over a five-minute stretch. By the end of the first half, Beran led all scorers with 12 points, shooting 5-for-6 from the field.

The Cats continue to fight back regardless of the deficit they face. Collins stressed the importance of his team’s ability to do so. 

“This group has amazed me all year in terms of their fight, their will, and their competitive spirit,” Collins said. “We were disappointed with the way we played the first eight minutes. For us to get the lead at half, it showed a lot about who our group was and who we’ve been all year.” 

The Cats started to wake up offensively after a slow start. A pair of threes by redshirt senior Chase Audige propelled NU towards its first advantage of the game at the four-minute mark. The Cats maintained their lead over the final minutes of the first half through points off turnovers. A steal by Audige leading to a fast break floater and steal by Barnhizer leading to a transition three by sophomore guard Julian Roper II gave the Cats a 39-37 lead at the end of the first half. Audige continued his stellar play on the defensive end with five steals, leading the team.

Collins noted the dichotomy of forcing 18 turnovers but surrendering 85 points against the Wolverines. 

“We were active in the passing lanes, especially Chase,” Collins said. “He is arguably the best defender and steals guy in the conference. We had active hands at times, but we got a little worn down in the second half. 

The offensive firepower the Cats finished the first half with was not as evident during the start of the second half. A pair of three-minute NU scoring droughts in the second half saw the Cats face a nine-point deficit midway. They shot a poor 1-for-9 from deep in the second half. 

While the Wildcats struggled offensively, they continued racking up steals, enabling them to remain within striking distance down the stretch in the second half. Consecutive steals by senior guard Boo Buie, Audige and Roper led to fast break transition free throws, cutting the Cats’ deficit down to one. However, continuous poor shooting down the stretch caused the Wolverines to reestablish a double-digit lead in the final minutes of the game. 

Collins acknowledged the team’s game plan of attacking Michigan on defense to ultimately generate fast-paced offense. 

“We wanted to try to attack if we could, especially if they were going to play bigger guys and get them running up and down the floor as quickly as possible,” Collins said. “Whether we had a long rebound or forced a turnover, we wanted our guys to push the ball and go out in the open court and see if we could get any opportunities before their defense got set.” 

Much of the Cats’ offense in the second half revolved around Buie. A spinning reverse layup and a Nicholson dunk assisted by the New York native helped the Wildcats break out of multiple scoreless sketches. Later, the senior guard scored 16 of his game-high 22 points in the second half. Despite Buie’s picked-up scoring at the end, continuous scoring by the Wolverines put the game out of reach for the Cats. 

Looking ahead to Wednesday, when the Cats travel to Iowa City, Collins recognized his team’s need to perform at a higher level defensively to achieve better results. 

“We got to recommit ourselves to play better defense,” he said. “ We can’t give up 85 points on the road and expect to win, so that is something we definitely have to sure up before our next game.” 

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