Men’s Basketball: March Madness: The Cats continue dancing after an emphatic 75-67 first round victory over Boise State


Angeli Mittal/Daily Senior Staffer

Senior guard Boo Buie dribbles the ball in transition. Buie led all scorers in Northwestern’s first-round victory Thursday, recording 22 points, five rebounds and five assists.

Aayushya Agarwal, Senior Staffer

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — After a historic season that included a first-ever win over a No. 1-ranked team and a program-best 12 conference wins, Northwestern (22-11, 12-8 Big Ten) opened up play in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday against Boise State (24-10). Just like in 2017, the Wildcats were victorious in their first round matchup, outlasting the Broncos 75-67.

In the first minutes of the contest, NU  started off hot offensively. Junior center Matthew Nicholson’s and-one layup, followed by senior forward Robbie Beran’s corner three helped the Cats race out to an early 8-3 lead. By the first media timeout, NU had already reached double digits courtesy of redshirt senior guard Chase Audige’s pair of running layups.

“It’s just about winning,” Audige said. “It’s so hard to get here and to advance against a really good team in Boise State. I’m trying to just do what I can for my team defensively and offensively to continue to survive and advance.” 

The Cats were aggressive on the defensive end, creating havoc for Boise State in the passing lanes. Steals from Nicholson and junior guard Ty Berry gave the squad momentum in the early minutes.  Through Audige’s steal that led to a running layup by freshman forward Nick Martinelli, NU scored points off turnovers as well.

Audige remained active on both sides of the floor as the Cats attempted to build off an early lead. He canned a corner 3 to give NU its highest lead of the first half at 20-10. Defensively, Audige continued to put pressure on the Boise State guards, recording his third steal of the evening midway through the first half. By the intermission, Audige recorded 7 points and 3 steals.

A major reason for the Cats’ high-level offensive performance was the offensive contributions from players outside of its starting backcourt. After corralling two offensive rebounds, sophomore guard Brooks Barnhizer’s layup contributed to a 7-0 NU run. The sophomore guard’s pullup jumper a few possessions later extended the Cats’ lead to 6 by the under-8 media timeout. 

At the same time, Berry’s offensive spark ensured that NU maintained its lead throughout the first half. The junior guard buried threes on consecutive attempts, propelling the Cats to a 32-24 lead in the final minutes of the first half. By the intermission, Barnhizer and Berry added six points apiece.

 Senior guard Boo Buie led the charge throughout the first half. When NU had a three-minute scoring drought and saw its once 10-point lead dwindle to four, the senior guard continued to tick the scoreboard with a coast-to-coast running layup.

Buie displayed his full offensive arsenal in Sacramento, with a crafty floater that put his defender on skates and a running layup in the final minute of the first half. By the intermission, Buie led all scorers with 11 points on 4-for-7 shooting from the field.

“When you go out there, it’s kind of natural to have the jitters as a player,” Buie said. “Going out there and just hearing that applause when you run out, it made it feel like a home game. I couldn’t be more grateful for (the fans), they’ve been here all year for us.” 

After losing their lead for the first and only time of the night following a 8-2 Boise State run to open the second half, the Cats did not look back. Berry provided another offensive spurt, nailing a three assisted by Buie and landing a pullup jumper. The junior guard’s 5-0 run brought him to 11 points on the night with 15 minutes left to play.

Berry, Buie and Audige combined to score 31 of NU’s 37 second-half points.

“When you get to where it really matters, your best players have to be there for you,” coach Chris Collins said. “It was great too to see Ty get going tonight. We need his ability to help us with points in scoring and take some pressure off (Buie and Audige).” 

As the two teams continued to go back and forth, with the Cats holding onto a four-point advantage, Buie continued his offensive excellence with a run of his own. The senior guard recorded NU’s next seven points which included a running layup over multiple Boise State defenders capped by a pullup three. 

The All-Big Ten player scored his 20th point of the night off a running floater with less than six minutes left to play. Buie’s ability to continue to tick the scoreboard was pivotal, as NU faced difficulties generating stops by allowing second-chance points.

“We had great energy,” Collins said. “We had the lead for a majority of the game, but every time (Boise State) tried to put game pressure on us with a five-or six-point run, we executed really well and found a way to score and make a big shot.”  

Down the stretch of the second half, Audige complemented his fellow backcourt starter, displaying his ability as an elite playmaker on both sides of the court. A pullup three from Audige followed by multiple made free throws enabled the Cats to maintain a six-point advantage with five minutes to play.

Defensively, Audige posed havoc for Boise State as it attempted to stage a late comeback. Contesting several opposing guards’ shots and forcing 3-point attempts late in the shot clock, the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Finalist was key to the Cats’ ability to restrict the Broncos to shoot 2-for-10 from deep in the second half.

The redshirt senior iced the game for the Cats, nailing 7-of-8 shots from the charity stripe in the second half and finishing with 20 points, including a game-high 13 second-half points. 

The Cats will aim to reach the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in program history on Saturday. Collins had one simple message for his team as it continues dancing. 

“It’s all about surviving and advancing,” Collins said. “When there’s only 32 teams left, everybody’s really good. You’ve got to really lock in and be at our best, and that’s what we’re going to hope to be on Saturday.” 

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Twitter: @aayushyagarwal7

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