Men’s Basketball: No. 7 Northwestern’s first-round win over No. 10 Boise State proves its March Madness legitimacy


Angeli Mittal/Daily Senior Staffer

Junior guard Ty Berry steps back while dribbling. He finished with 13 points in the first-round win over Boise State.

Lawrence Price, Senior Staffer

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Out of the four No. 7 versus No. 10 matchups, No. 7 Northwestern had the second-worst odds to win its Thursday contest against No. 10 Boise State. 

And there were reasons for it. NU hadn’t scored more than 65 points in its last five contests, while redshirt senior guard Chase Audige had finished in double figures once in the last six games. Not to mention, its quarter finals exit in the Big Ten Tournament less than a week ago wasn’t the best momentum gainer.

Additionally, Boise State’s defense ranked top-15 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency — not the best news when looking to find an offensive groove. As a result, major names like Barack Obama, Charles Barkley and former No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick Paolo Banchero thought the Cats were in trouble, picking Boise State to win.

But when it comes to March Madness, the Cats (22-11, 12-8 Big Ten) still don’t know what a “first-round exit” is, defeating Boise State (24-10, 13-5 Mountain West), 75-67. Although NU’s defense continued its dominance, it was the production of Audige and senior guard Boo Buie that propelled NU to victory — a key to their hopes for further success in the NCAA Tournament. 

“They’re a big reason why we were here,” coach Chris Collins said. “They got to lead the way, they’ve got to have good command.”

Audige and Buie put the college basketball world back on notice, combining for 42 of the team’s 75 points. The last time the dynamic duo collected 20 or more points each was Jan. 28. Like the saying, “There’s no better time than the present.”

However, the point total doesn’t tell the full story. The two’s ability to score when the Cats most needed a basket was pivotal in the win. Throughout the second half, Boise State repeatedly cut NU’s lead down to less than four points, slowly but surely gaining momentum. Yet, almost every time, it was either Buie’s top-of-the-glass finishes over taller defenders or an Audige 3-pointer that stifled Boise State’s motor.

As a result, the Broncos never led in the game.

“When you have two senior guards, that helps,” Collins said. “Every time they tried to put game pressure on us with a five-point run or six-point run, we really executed well and found a way to score.”  

Even though Buie and Audige led the way, they weren’t the only Wildcats that made their presence known on the stat sheet. Third-fiddle junior guard Ty Berry bounced back from his five-point performance versus Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament, dropping 13 points on top of knocking down 3-of-4 threes.

Sophomore guard Brooks Barnhizer continued his now six-game double-digit scoring streak, finishing with 10 points and five rebounds.Outside of freshman forward Nick Martinelli, NU’s guards combined for 65 of the team’s 75 points. 

“Everyone understands what their role is,” Collins said. “To have [Buie, Audige and Berry] come out and play the way they did, it’s why we won, and then everyone else starred in their role.”

When it comes to the NCAA Tournament, there are a few known keys to success: momentum, a potent defense and elite guard play. Although frontcourt production is vital, the players that have the ball in their hands each possession and set up the forwards for opportunities play a huge role in whether the end result will be a victory or loss. 

The Cats have emphasized the importance of defense as their “calling card” throughout the season, so that’s never been a worry. But with their collective guard success coming alive at just the right time, they are returning to the form that won them games against No. 1 Purdue, No. 15 and No. 14 Indiana and Iowa — all tournament teams. 

NU’s next matchup won’t be easy, as No. 2 UCLA will be a tough cookie to crack even without their best defender in forward Jaylen Clark. However, with how the Cats are playing currently, they are finding their groove at just the right time.

“It’s been Chase and I this whole way leading this thing and our leadership, and so it feels good to be able to go out there and get a win,” Buie said.

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