Men’s Basketball: Northwestern gets boost from multiple players in last-second, nerve-wracking 54-52 victory over Wisconsin


Angeli Mittal/Daily Senior Staffer

Freshman forward Nick Martinelli looks for an open teammate. Martinelli, who saw extended minutes on Sunday, tallied six points in the Cats’ 54-52 victory in Madison.

Aayushya Agarwal, Reporter

MADISON, WI — Northwestern (16-7, 7-5 Big Ten) escaped the Kohl Center with a down-the-stretch 54-52 victory over Wisconsin (13-9, 5-7), avoiding a loss-filled week. Sunday’s victory was the first time the Cats won both of a season’s games over the Badgers since 1995. 

Senior forward Robbie Beran’s deep pull-up three opened up scoring for the Wildcats. In the subsequent possession, redshirt senior Chase Audige’s driving layup late in the shot clock put NU in a 5-0 lead.

The Cats continued to convert on the offensive side early on in the game. Junior center Matthew Nicholson’s layup followed by senior guard Boo Buie’s pull-up three allowed the team to reach double digits within the first four minutes of the game. By the first media timeout, the Cats saw their lead reach as high as eight points, courtesy of Beran’s alley-oop layup. 

As the first half went on, the Cats played tight defense. Blocks from both graduate forward Tydus Verhoeven and Audige forced shot clock violations for the Badgers, allowing NU to remain in front even when their offense started to slow down. Capped off by Nicholson’s steal and coast-to-coast dunk, the Cats were able to turn defense into offense. NU held Wisconsin off the three-point line, limiting the Badgers to 4-for-15 from deep. 

Coach Chris Collins commented on the team’s ability to perform at a high defensive level. 

“Our defense has been able to win games for us,” Collins said. “We matched (Wisconsin)’s physicality, and it came down to those final two minutes and fortunately, we were able to make enough plays to win.” 

While the Cats did not see many offensive contributions outside of Buie and Audige in their recent home loss to Michigan, bench players proved to be an asset against Wisconsin. Freshman forward Nick Martinelli’s and-one layup and running floater, along with Verhoeven’s block, ensured Sunday’s victory was a collective effort. 

Martinelli said the expanded roles of players like himself continue to be important in contributing alongside the Cats’ leaders. 

“All of us want to go out and fight for (Chase, Boo and Robbie),” Martinelli said. “They work so hard every day to keep us in check. They always fight to win and not for themselves. As soon as I got here, they made me feel like family, so every time me, Brooks, Julian, Tydus go out there — we’re fighting for them.” 

Audige had it going early offensively, ensuring the team kept ticking the scoreboard, courtesy of a bank layup and pull-up jumper. The redshirt senior guard rebounded nicely from a tough performance a couple of days ago, becoming the team’s top scorer with six points by the intermission. 

Down the stretch in the first half, the Cats’ offense went cold, failing to score for over five minutes. A once-eight-point lead was diminished to a one-point lead late in the first half. Sophomore guard Brooks Barnhizer’s off-balanced jumper and three consecutive offensive rebounds on the NU’s final possession gave the Cats a three-point advantage entering the locker room. 

Barnhizer said he was heavily involved in the boards all night. The sophomore guard tied with a team-high seven rebounds while also adding eight points to the Cats’ final tally.

“Getting the extra possessions is huge because they have to play defense for another 30 seconds and that adds up,” Barnhizer said. “Over the course of the game, we can get more field goals and shots up, so the extra possessions are really everything.” 

The Cats’ veteran backcourt duo had a tremendous impact on the team’s success down the stretch. Buie’s turnaround hook shot and consecutive possession running layup, along with Audige’s turnaround jumper and three, made up nearly half of the Wildcats’ second-half points. 

At the same time, both Buie and Audige excellently distributed the ball across the bench. Buie’s assist to Barnhizer’s running layup and Audige’s assist for Beran’s corner three extended the Cats’ lead to six with five minutes left in play. 

Despite Sunday’s continuous and collective contributions, the Cats looked like they were on their way to yet another heartbreaking loss. After the Badgers’ 7-0 run and a one-point deficit with less than a minute left to play, Buie’s poise in a deafening Madison crowd saved the day. 

“We kept our composure down the stretch,” Collins said. We were able to get the stops we needed in the last minute, and Buie made four big free throws under pressure.” 

On the defensive end, though, Barnhizer’s block on a potential Badgers layup eliminated any chances of a late comeback for the opponent.

Martinelli said the Sunday victory was crucial for NCAA tournament contention. 

“Especially after the last two losses, we’ve come together so well,” Martinelli said. “We didn’t fall under all the pressure of losing and not making the tournament. We’re just going to stick to the principles that we’ve had all season, which (are) being calm, composed and finishing out games.” 

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