Men’s Basketball: Northwestern caps off historic conference season with a 65-53 victory over Rutgers


Daily file photo by Jacob Wendler

Sophomore guard Brooks Barnhizer stays attentive defensively. Barnhizer had an impressive game, recording a double-double with a game-high sixteen points and ten rebounds.

Aayushya Agarwal, Senior Staffer

Ahead of Northwestern’s (21-10, 12-8 Big Ten) game versus Rutgers (18-13, 10-10 Big Ten) Sunday night, everything went the team’s way surrounding seeding for next week’s Big Ten Tournament.

The last game of the regular season for the conference served as pivotal — a win for the Cats would clinch the No. 2 seed and a double-bye in the tournament, but a loss would push the squad all the way down to No. 9.

Back when the squads matched up in early January, NU suffered a 65-62 heartbreaking loss. In the second time around between the two teams, NU had a much better defensive effort, beating the Scarlet Knights 65-53 and earning its program-best 12th Big Ten victory.

Starting off the game, the Cats struggled offensively. Junior guard Ty Berry’s three snapped a 0-for-5 start for the squad. Five minutes into the half, NU faced its highest deficit of the game, trailing 10-3.

From that moment on, NU never looked back. A jumper by Berry followed by a driving layup by sophomore guard Brooks Barnhizer jump-started a 9-0 NU scoring run. The Cats held their first lead of the night at the 12-minute mark and ultimately never gave it back.

The squad continued to roll after obtaining its first lead largely from junior center Matthew Nicholson’s presence on both sides of the floor. Consecutive dunks from Nicholson followed by a block gave the Cats a six-point advantage by the under-eight media timeout. The center had the game of his season, ending with ten points, six rebounds and four blocks.

While the Cats struggled offensively throughout the first half, going on a near-six minute scoring drought, it was the defense that ensured the squad continued to build its lead and hold momentum throughout.

Consecutive steals by Nicholson and graduate student forward Tydus Verhoeven were part of eight first-half forced NU turnovers. The Cats guarded the perimeter well, restricting the Scarlet Knights to 2-for-8 from deep in the first half.

Following a near-seven-minute delay as a result of smoke coming from the Jersey Mike’s Arena scoreboard, the Cats’ offensive woes seemed to have been relieved. A 6-0 Rutgers run to close the half trimmed the Cats’ lead down to 25-21 at halftime.
The Cats had four players who recorded double-digits on Sunday, including Ty Berry who added 12.

“Our guards have been great,” coach Chris Collins said. “We knew (Rutgers) would take the ball out of Chase and Boo’s hands. Brooks had big buckets when we needed them.”

A jumper by Barnhizer helped him reach double digits points for the fifth consecutive game. A few possessions later, Berry’s floater and Nicholson’s second-chance dunk extended the Cats’ lead to seven.
While senior guard Boo Buie and Audige struggled mightily over the first half and the start of the second half, combining to shoot 1-for-16 from the floor, Barnhizer continued to take full advantage of his squad’s need for offensive contributions.

The sophomore guard catalyzed a 9-0 NU scoring run, capped by corner three and a crafty driving layup, giving the squad a 12-point advantage with 15 minutes to play. The Indiana native recorded a double-double with a game-high sixteen points and ten rebounds.

Defensively, the Cats continued having active hands in the passing lanes, ensuring the team did not lose its double-digit lead. A steal by freshman forward Nick Martinelli and by Audige was part of the player’s two steals each and eight second-half NU forced turnovers.

As the Cats built a double-digit advantage midway through the second half and all momentum was firmly positioned on NU’s side, Buie came alive with an impressive scoring outburst. The senior guard, who was previously 0-for-8, recorded his first points of the night with a driving and-one layup. Buie’s free throw halfway through the second half was the Cats’ first free throw attempt all game. A few possessions later, Buie drilled all three of his following three-point attempts. By the under-four media timeout, the senior guard recorded 12 of NU’s previous 18 points and helped ice the game for his squad, giving it its highest lead of the night at 56-42.

“I thought (Rutgers) came out aggressive, doubling early on,” Buie said. “In the second half, as they got more tired, the double team wasn’t as strong. I started to turn the corner, and my teammates started to find me.”

A large part of NU’s ability to firmly hold onto its double-digit lead down the stretch was the team’s ability to make free throws and limit the Scarlet Knights from deep.

As the team now heads into the Big Ten Tournament with a program-best No. 2 seed and a double-bye, Collins stressed how his team managed to defy the low expectations set on his squad entering the season.

“We didn’t listen to the (skeptics) at the beginning of the year,” Collins said. “We’re going to have to be together. We’re going to have to have older guys lead the way. We’re going to have to guard our tails off.”

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Twitter: @aayushyagarwal7

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