Men’s Basketball: Price: The two puzzle pieces that led to Northwestern’s 54-52 win over Wisconsin


Angeli Mittal/Daily Senior Staffer

Brooks Barnhizer attempts to finish with the right hand at the rim. Barnhizer with eight points in the big away win against Wisconsin, 54-52.

Lawrence Price, Senior Staffer

Six points. This could be the number of points a team scored in one minute, back-to-back threes or even a player’s career high. In this case, though, it was the third-most points sophomore guard Brooks Barnhizer scored in Northwestern’s Thursday loss to Michigan. 

Aside from redshirt senior guard Chase Audige and senior guard Boo Buie, the supporting Wildcats accumulated only 18 of the team’s 51 points. With six coming from Barnhizer — and clearly not much elsewhere — offensive support was a major disappointment in NU’s 17-point loss.

Sadly, it wasn’t much different on the offensive end Sunday against Wisconsin for the third-highest scorers. Tied were senior forward Robbie Beran and Barnhizer with eight apiece. The difference between Thursday and Sunday, though? The Cats’ defense and multiple supporting cast members, leading to a nerve-racking 54-52 win over the Badgers.

“It’s really been our calling card all year long,” coach Chris Collins said. “Early in the season we were really struggling offensively. And we’ve still found a way to win because of our defense, and I thought that was the game tonight.”

Even without sophomore guard Julian Roper II in the lineup, early scoring seemed to be unproblematic for NU. With Beran’s top of the key to start the contest and a 12-6 lead entering the first media timeout, all but one starter scored. Yet, deep into the first half, the Cats couldn’t find the bottom of the barrel, largely due to turnovers, with three during the drought and shots late into the shot clock. It took NU nearly five minutes to score again — 4:57 to be exact.

Although the Cats offensive performance was alarming, their defense kept the Kohl Center from exploding. This meant forcing Wisconsin into their own scoring droughts — talk about a “if I fall, then you’re falling with me” tactic.

Coach Collins attributed their defensive performance to defensive tactics and execution.

“Trapping the post is a staple of what we do,” coach Collins said. “We matched their physicality. They’re a physical team, and we are too.”

This scorching effort on the defensive end not only set the Badgers off track, but limited their presence in the paint. NU held Wisconsin forwards Steven Crowl and Tyler Wahl, who averaged the second- and third-most points per game for the Badgers, each to five. Outside of Wisconsin guards Chucky Hepburn and Connor Essegian’s 17 and 15 points, respectively, the Badgers’ next highest pointmaker had six. Sounds familiar?

In comparison to the Cats’ previous two opponents, Michigan and Iowa, it’s easy to argue that both groups offensive toolage and depth is deeper than the Badgers, who rely heavily on Hepburn and Essegian. However, NU’s ability to adjust the defense and match Wisconsin’s physicality, especially in the frontcourt, speaks volumes of its versatility and sound play Sunday. 

And it wasn’t steals that sealed the deal on defense that made the Cats’ defense so effective, which averages the third-most per game in the Big Ten, Barnhizer tied it to their hustle and rebounding. The sophomore tied for most rebounds on the team with seven.

“That’s a really big reason why we ended up on top,” Barnhizer said on the team’s rebounding. “Steals have been a really big part of our defense, but also what I think we did really good today was being solid.”

Although Buie and Audige were the only two players in double digits and the supporting cast efforts on the defensive end were major with some crucial buckets. After Wahl’s free throw, cutting NU’s lead to one with seven minutes to go, Barnhizer’s contact layup on the next possession quieted the crowd, and Beran’s corner three to follow silenced the arena — upping their lead to six.

The trio of first-year Nick Martinelli, Beran and Barnhizer combined for 22 points in the victory, a big jump from eight points against Michigan. In a physical, down-to-the-wire contest like this one, this group’s offensive and defensive reinforcement, alongside graduate forward Tydus Verhoeven’s six rebounds and clutch block at the end of the game, carried the Cats over the edge. 

Buie and Audige will need help as the season continues and games get more gritty, making these two pieces to NU’s success even more important.

“All of us want to go out there and fight for them,” Martinelli said about Buie and Audige. “That’s one thing about Boo and Chase and Robbie that I’ve always, you know, thought was great is that they always fight to win, they don’t fight themselves.”

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