Men’s Basketball: Price: Northwestern last-second win over No.14 Indiana should solidify case for March Madness


Gabe Bider/The Daily Northwestern

Junior center Matthew Nicholson throws up his hands in celebration. The big man didn’t stuff the stat sheet, but he was integral to limiting Trayce Jackson-Davis to five points in the first half in the 64-62 win over No. 14 Indiana.

Lawrence Price, Senior Staffer

Northwestern’s unforgettable win Sunday against No.1 Purdue put the college basketball world on watch. 

However, it wasn’t just because it was the program’s first ever win against an AP No.1, or the electric court-storming, or coach Chris Collins and his son Ryan’s teary eyed post-game interview with Big Ten’s Andy Katz — it was something much more major. The calls for a possible trip to March Madness for the Wildcats have reached a new octave. 

And with its second straight ranked win defeating No. 14 Indiana (18-8, 9-6 Big Ten) on Wednesday, NU’s (19-7, 10-5 Big Ten) case for a trip back to the big dance should be on lock. Coach Collins thinks so.

“We’re going to the tourney,” Coach Collins said. “Now put ourselves in position through 15 games to really play for something that really matters.” 

Of course, the nail-biting win wasn’t the perfect scenario the Cats wanted, or even what many would have predicted after the first half, but it gave even more reason to the title’s purpose. Up 39-20 at the break, NU was sitting pretty with its feet kicked up, sitting on the couch with potato chips in hand. Senior guard Boo Buie and senior redshirt Chase Audige both had 11 points, while senior forward Robbie Beran and junior guard Ty Berry combined for 13.

Everybody was eating, and even more so on defense, collectively making it hard for two of the country’s — if not Big Ten’s — most gifted offensive players in college basketball to score. Forward Trayce Jackson-Davis was limited to four shots with five points, while guard Jalen Hood-Schifino made only three shots out of 10, walking into the locker room with six points total.

This was just one half, but it put on display the level, overall play and possible heights NU can aspire to when both sides of the ball are clicking. More importantly, it showed why they should be viewed as at least a top-25 team in the country, alongside its March hopes.

“We’re able to do things no one expects,” Buie said. “Beating the number one team in the country, that literally tells you that you can play with anybody.”

And Buie’s right. The Sunday win said a lot, and will undeniably be at the top of their resume. To top it off, Wednesday’s win over No. 14 Indiana win reemphasized that statement. In years’ past, a telling tale for NU was its inability to come out on top in a close contest. Yet, this season, they’ve somewhat closed that chapter, and they have the evidence to back it up.

The Cats have secured four ranked wins, the most in a single season in program history — two at home and two away. What’s their significance? Each was down to the absolute wire. The victory that got the winning ball going was against No. 20 Michigan State NU led by one-point with less than a minute remaining. Flashing forward to their most recent win over the No. 14 Hoosiers, Indiana fought back in the second half, tying up the ballgame at 62 with 15 seconds left in the contest. Even then, the Cats were victorious, courtesy of Buie’s game-winning floater.

NU has seemingly been able to find the light at the end of the tunnel in most games, an attribute most describe as a separator between good and bad teams. The Cats have proven that they should not be messed with and provided multiple reasons for a bid.

“We’re going to continue to stay hungry and do what we got to do,” Audige said. “Our mindset is just to be in attack mode and just give everything.” 

Snagging 19 wins on the season with more than five games remaining on the regular schedule is impressive. But 10 Big Ten wins, for the second time in school history and in one of the toughest conferences in college basketball, speaks even greater volumes. And with the type of ranked wins under their belt, alongside winning in arguably two of the most challenging environments in the Breslin Center and Simon Skojdt Assembly Hall, not many teams are more decorated than the Cats.

The Cats entered this season, like many others, with the possibility of March Madness at the back of everyone’s minds. However, game by game and win by win, the thought became more like a fruition in my mind, at least. 

The last two contests have proven that NU is not a ‘young grasshopper’ anymore and that its run is not a fluke. They are ready for the big leagues — or, should I say, the big dance. When assistant coach Bryant McIntosh was a player at NU, he was a part of the program’s last run at March Madness during the 2016-17 season. This time around, he better be ready to teach these guys a few things about that atmosphere, because their ticket is stamped.

“More people need to wake up,” Buie said. “This isn’t luck, can’t be luck at this point.”

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