Rapid Recap: Northwestern 54, Wisconsin 52


Angeli Mittal/Daily Senior Staffer

Freshman forward Nick Martinelli scores a layup against multiple Wisconsin defenders. Martinelli had six points in Northwestern’s 54-52 win against the Badgers.

Alex Cervantes, Senior Staffer

Sunday, fun day. 

After a resounding 17-point defeat to Michigan on Thursday, Northwestern (16-7, 7-5 Big Ten) traveled north to Madison, Wisconsin, to take on the Badgers (13-9, 5-7). The two squads met just over two weeks ago in Evanston, with the Wildcats emerging victorious in a narrow 66-63 affair. Sunday’s game was another 40-minute slow burn.

Neither team shot the ball particularly well — NU shot at a 46.7% clip, while Wisconsin was 38% from the field — en route to a low-scoring brawl. Badger guards Connor Essegian and Chucky Hepburn led the charge for the hosts, with the backcourt duo combining for 32 points. The Cats were similarly led by their backcourt tandem, with senior guard Boo Buie and redshirt senior guard Chase Audige adding 13 and 11 points, respectively.

In the end, Buie’s late pair of free throws helped cement a much-needed 54-52 victory for NU away from home and the regular-season sweep of Wisconsin.

Here are three takeaways from the Cats’ clash with the Badgers.


  1. NU offense spreads the wealth initially, though still endures first-half drought

Following the Cats’ blowout loss to Michigan, coach Chris Collins said that the onus falls on him to get other players — notably senior forward Robbie Beran and junior guard Ty Berry — involved when Buie and Audige are struggling shooting the ball.

Collins said the team can’t expect to win games if Beran and Berry aren’t getting touches. It was evident early against the Badgers that the pair were going to get more shots.

On NU’s first possession, Beran slid up the wing to the top of the key and buried a triple for the Cats’ first points of the game. Minutes later, Buie found Beran unguarded at the rim for an easy lob to hand the visitors a 12-6 advantage. Beran’s five points were part of a 14-6 start from NU. But as soon as it started, the Cats’ offenses sputtered to a halt. 

Junior center Matt Nicholson’s transition dunk at the 7:27 mark precipitated a five-minute scoreless drought for NU, characterized by poor, late clock shot selection and three turnovers. A Buie floater with 2:14 to play stymied a 6-0 Badger spurt and provided a much-needed bucket.

By halftime, six of the eight Cats which featured in the first half had scored en route to a 26-23 lead, though NU was shooting just 42.9% from the field and 22.2% from beyond the arc.

  1. Wisconsin shooters fill it in from beyond the arc

One of the calling cards of Collins’ defensive schemes is sending a second defender to double the post on every entry pass. In a league which boasts phenomenal frontcourt play, taking the ball out of opposing bigs’ hands is imperative to success — and has been just that in 2022-23.

Though the Badgers’ offense is nothing to write home about — it entered the game ranked 144th in offensive efficiency per KenPom — it does boast a trio of prolific shooters in Hepburn, Essegian and Max Klesmit. Hepburn and Essegian, in particular, each shoot above 43% from distance. 

In the two teams’ first meeting, Wisconsin canned just 10-of-31 attempts from three-point range. With Klesmit sidelined for the January clash, both Hepburn and Essegian were troubled on the perimeter, combining to shoot 5-of-17 from deep.

As NU sent doubles towards forwards Steven Crowl and Tyler Wahl, it opened up opposite kickouts to the Badger shooters. Essegian and Hepburn took full advantage of the openings. 

Essegian, who poured in 15 points, buried 5-of-11 attempts from deep. His first triple of the second frame also claimed the Badgers’ first lead of the game, 29-26. Hepburn, meanwhile, led Wisconsin with 17 points and hit 3-of-5 attempts from distance, though struggled from the field overall.

  1. Cats bench provides incredible lift

With sophomore guard Julian Roper II sidelined after picking up an injury against Michigan, NU’s already short bench slimmed for another game. The bench trio — sophomore guard Brooks Barnhizer, graduate student forward Tydus Verhoeven and freshman forward Nick Martinelli — stepped up in a big way Sunday.

Barnhizer, Collins’ Swiss army knife off the bench, continues to be a spark plug on both ends of the floor. His activity defensively and his ability to crash the glass has paid dividends for this Cats squad in light of Roper’s absence. Barnhizer, in 28 minutes of action, poured in eight points and seven rebounds. 

With Nicholson in foul trouble for most of the contest, Verhoeven was the Cats’ frontcourt cog for much of the game. He was a pest on the offensive glass, picking up a pair of boards and providing NU with extra offensive possessions. He also added four points alongside his six rebounds, though his most important stat — one block — came in the game’s dying moments.

After Hepburn beat his defender and charged into the lane, it was Verhoeven who met him in the air and rejected his layup attempt. Though he missed the ensuing free throw attempt, his defensive resiliency on that play in particular helped secure a massive victory for the Cats.

Meanwhile, Martinelli, who has blossomed in an increased role due to Roper’s extended absence in January, featured well as a slasher. In 15 minutes, he posted six points on 3-of-3 shooting, scoring on a couple post-ups and a backdoor cut. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @CervantesPAlex 

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