Men’s Basketball: Cats outlast Wisconsin in back-and-forth contest, winning 66-63


Alyce Brown/The Daily Northwestern

Guard Boo Buie follows through on his three as the Wildcats’ bench waited to see the shot’s results. The senior led NU in scoring with 20 points in the three-point win over Wisconsin on Monday night.

Lawrence Price, Senior Staffer

When it comes to boxing, everyone loves a clean knockout punch — one that leaves fans and commentators in awe, ending the battle earlier than many expected. 

But what’s even better than an untimely silencing blow? A back-and-forth contest that leaves everyone on the edge of their seat until the final horn.

That nervous — yet exciting — feeling reverberated throughout Welsh-Ryan Arena Monday night, as Northwestern’s (13-5, 4-3 Big Ten) final striking punch was enough to take down the Wisconsin Badgers (12-6, 4-4 Big Ten) 66-63. 

In a contest that was nearly a three possession battle the entire 40 minutes, it came down to free throws and defensive strategy that pulled NU over the finish line with less than three minutes to go. At this point, Wisconsin had scored zero points from the field while the Cats converted each shot from the charity stripe.

“It was just kind of a war of attrition for both teams,” coach Chris Collins said. “Wasn’t the prettiest at times, but really proud of my team, and, you know, I thought we gutted it out.”

The duel began in the first half, specifically between the guard play for both squads. Early on, it was a pound-for-pound battle between redshirt senior guard Chase Audige and junior guard Jordan Davis for the Badgers. The two scored three of their team’s first five baskets, where Davis found the basket with ease twice and a three to cap off his run, while Audige collected his baskets with higher difficulty — two on-the-move midrange fadeaways and another off the screen three.

All knotted up nine-a-piece, the contest continued to be controlled by guard play. By halftime, through the scoop and scores of senior guard Boo Buie, and a few shots by junior guard Ty Berry and sophomore guards Julian Roper II and Brooks Barnhizer, all but five of the Cats’ points came from the guards. Buie and Audige combined for 18 of NU’s 32 points, while Davis and Wisconsin guard Chucky Hepburn picked up 13 of the Badgers’ 26 points.

The Buie-Auidge duo proved to be even more impactful than they were in the first half. Out of the 40 minutes, Buie and Auidge played 37 and 39 minutes, respectively.

“We just got to do what we got to do to win, whatever it takes,” Audige said. “Our team and coach has trust in us to make the plays down the stretch, and us trusting in our teammates to, you know, trust everybody in the program, to do what we got to do to win.”

Even with the six-point lead by halftime and multiple possession leads throughout the first 20 minutes, the Cats were unable to push their lead to the double digits — leaving the door open for the Badgers. 

And that’s exactly what Wisconsin did coming out of the break. After a quick bucket to start the second half, Wisconsin’s freshman guard Connor Essegian hit a left corner three, bringing the game within a point. The Badgers weren’t done just yet, though, as Hepburn capped off the run with a catch and shoot three near the right wing, forcing Collins to call a timeout.

With the Badgers’ back-to-back-to-back body shots, the Cats looked like they were staggering, and there were moments similar to this during the second half. After Roper II’s injury in the first half and Berry’s in the second, the guard position was becoming increasingly thin. 

On top of that, junior center Matthew Nicholson picked up his fourth personal foul near the 10-minute mark and graduate forward Tydus Verhoeven fouled out — not even a minute later — limiting coach Collins’ choices even more.

However, the Cats fought back. Even in their small ball lineup, they were able to continue keeping their offense and defense, gaining support from players outside of Buie and Audige like  freshman forward Nick Martinelli stepping up to make hustle plays in his first game minutes in nearly two months.

This included a career-high in minutes by Barnhizer, defending multiple positions and collecting buckets alongside senior forward Robbie Beran. The two had seven points each in the second half. Berry returned late in the second half as well.

“This has been one of the things that this group has focused on, since the start of the season, is being able to handle adversity ever since last year,” Buie said. “We had a couple of breakdowns and then we called timeout, and we got on each other and we just figured it out.”

Buie noted the importance of the first and last four minutes of each contest, emphasizing its game-changing impact to the final score. 

This was especially true Monday night, a down-to-the-wire battle where NU held a one-point lead with less than four minutes remaining. And even when the clock reached the less-than-a-minute-left mark, this belief lived on as the Cats were up 64-62, following Audige’s midrange miss and Wisconsin’s timeout.

As both teams exited their huddle, the Welsh-Ryan Arena crowd understood the magnitude of the upcoming possessions: Fans throughout all three levels of the arena rose to their feet, waiting for the biggest moment of the game. Yet, 10 seconds later, the ball was in Beran’s hands, who skied in for the rebound following Hepburn’s near baseline fadeaway miss to seal the deal.

In the last three minutes of the game, while NU was able to score and convert each free throw, its defense didn’t allow one Wisconsin bucket, only two free throws — something they’ve struggled with all of conference play, according to coach Collins. With their lockdown play on the defensive end, the Cats final punch stunned the Badgers enough to put them away for good and secure the three-point victory.

“To be able to play good defense in the last three minutes was something we really addressed in film work and in practice,” Collins said. “It was good to see us kind of do a better job of that tonight.” 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @LPIII_TRES

Related Stories:

Rapid Recap: Northwestern 66, Wisconsin 63

Men’s Basketball: Cats reportedly to reschedule home contest versus Wisconsin for Monday

Men’s Basketball: Saturday home game against Wisconsin canceled