Rapid Recap: Northwestern 65, Rutgers 53

Alex Cervantes, Senior Staffer

With a potential double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament hanging in the balance, Northwestern traveled to New Jersey on Sunday for a rematch with Rutgers. 

Much like the two teams’ first meeting, round two between the Wildcats (21-10, 12-8 Big Ten) and Scarlet Knights (18-13, 10-10 Big Ten) was a rock fight. The defense was suffocating throughout and the offense was nonexistent at times — the perfect nightcap for an incredibly volatile weekend of Big Ten basketball. 

The first half saw 14 combined turnovers and a six-minute scoring drought for both NU and Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights jumped out to a 10-3 start in the game’s opening five minutes, speeding the Cats up offensively and forcing the visitors into several late shot clock hoists. 

But coach Chris Collins’ crew settled down and countered with a 15-2 run to take a two-possession lead midway through the first half. Propelled by ascendant sophomore guard Brooks Barnhizer, NU held a 25-21 advantage at the intermission. 

Out of the intermission, the Cats’ defense continued to stifle Rutgers’ offense, holding the hosts to 39.3% shooting in the second frame. After burying 11-of-18 three-point attempts in the two teams’ first meeting, the Scarlet Knights went cold from beyond the arc, hitting just 2-of-17 in round two. 

As senior guard Boo Buie kicked it into gear late in the contest, NU broke a three-game skid, nabbing a 65-53 victory over Rutgers. 

Here are three takeaways from the Cats’ clash with the Scarlet Knights.


  1. Offensive inefficiencies dictate Sunday’s affair 

All things considered, NU and Rutgers’ January meeting was a relatively offensively stimulating game from a pair of defensive-minded teams — the Scarlet Knights in particular. Coach Steve Pikiell’s squad shot a blistering 61.1% from beyond the arc in a game which was decided by one late three-pointer. 

The second meeting was anything but exhilarating on the offensive end. 

Buie, NU’s offensive talisman, saw his playing time mired by foul trouble. Though he entered the game averaging 17.3 points per game, Buie didn’t score until the 9:33 mark in the second half. 

Still, the Cats stayed afloat without him, largely fueled by the efforts of an unlikely trio: sophomore guard Brooks Barnhizer, junior guard Ty Berry and junior center Matthew Nicholson.

The trio of players have not been world beaters this season, but they have slid in nicely to defined roles designed to fit alongside Buie and Audige’s scoring. Nevertheless, the trio exploded against the Scarlet Knights tallying a combined 38 points.

As a whole though, neither team was setting Jersey Mike’s Arena aflame. NU shot a solid 45.3% from the field, but connected on just 30.4% of its attempts from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Rutgers struggled mightily, unable to crack the apparent lid on the rim, missing all nine off its second-half three-points attempts and shooting a grim 52.4% from the free throw line.

  1. Barnhizer’s late-season ascension continues

It’s no secret that guards win in March and Barnhizer’s emergence as a viable scoring offense for NU bodes well as postseason play nears.

Amid Audige’s recent scoring slump — he’s scored in single digits in four of the Cats’ last five games — Barnhizer has picked up the slack offensively. The Indiana native has scored at least 11 points in that stretch, including tying his career-high of 19 points on Wednesday against Penn State. 

Barnhizer picked up right where he left off on Sunday, pouring in eight first-half points against the Scarlet Knights. Though he failed to connect on his initial two three-point attempts, Barnhizer’s ability to score on post-ups and off dribbles drives proved vital. 

With so much attention devoted to stymieing Audige and senior guard Boo Buie, Barnhizer led the way offensively, recording a double-double on a team-high 16 points and 10 rebounds on an efficient 7-of-12 shooting display. 

  1. Have yourself a game, Matthew Nicholson

When NU faced Rutgers on Jan. 11, Nicholson played 30 minutes, shooting 1-of-4 from the field and a dismal 1-of-6 from the charity stripe. He finished with three points, seven boards and two blocks. 

Coming off a scoreless, 11-minute appearance on Wednesday in which Penn State’s offensive schematics largely forced him out of the game, Nicholson anchored the Cats in the paint. In a game with pivotal postseason implications, he rose to the occasion, posting 10 points, six boards and a season-high four blocks in arguably his most complete performance of the 2022-23 campaign. 

Nicholson’s efforts on Sunday secured the program’s first-ever double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament. It also helped secure the most wins in conference play (12) in program history. 

In a year of historical firsts for NU, Nicholson’s play to cap off the regular season not only checked off a couple more boxes in a memorable season, but also aptly illustrated how his play on both ends can impact opposing teams, even when the Cats’ backcourt is struggling. 

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Twitter: @CervantesPAlex 

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