Rapid Recap: No. 7 Northwestern 75, No. 10 Boise State 67


Angeli Mittal/Daily Senior Staffer

Senior forward Robbie Beran attempts a layup against Boise State. Beran recorded three points and three rebounds in Northwestern’s 75-67 victory over Boise State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Alex Cervantes, Senior Staffer

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — After a six-year hiatus, No. 7 Northwestern made its much awaited (and celebrated) return to the NCAA Tournament in Sacramento Thursday.

Facing 10-seed Boise State, the Wildcats’ first-round matchup was a back-and-forth affair for all 40 minutes. The meeting pitted a pair of stout defenses against one another, setting up a likely low-scoring brawl. However, the first half was anything but forecasting an offensive battle between both squads

NU jumped out to an early advantage behind its defensive activity and the scoring efforts of its starting backcourt. The Broncos remained in striking distance though, aided by several fortunate late shot clock buckets and a combined 19 points from guard Chibuzo Agbo and forward Naje Smith. 

The second half saw much of the same as both the Cats and Boise State exchanged blows, the game squarely a two-possession battle. NU’s late conversion of looks around the basket and several free throws ward off its Mountain West opponent, as Big Ten Coach of the Year Chris Collins earned his second career NCAA Tournament victory, 75-67. 

Here are three takeaways from the Cats’ clash with the Broncos.

  1. Both squads’ offenses come to life in the first half 

In a game billed for  a defensive slugfest, both NU and Boise State’s offenses clicked early. A week removed from a performance where the Cats attempted more shots (66) than they scored points (65), coach Chris Collins’ crew generated some easy looks at the rim in the game’s opening  minutes.

Last week, NU missed eight of 10 layup attempts in the first half against the Nittany Lions in the Big Ten Tournament, but on Thursday, the bunch appeared to right the ship initially. Redshirt senior guard Chase Audige and junior center Matthew Nicholson converted a trio of layups to open up a 10-5 lead just 4:03 into the contest. 

Though both squads have hung their hats on the defensive end this season, each holding opponents to fewer than 65 points per game, the Cats and the Broncos both shot above 46% from the field, with NU clinging to a 38-32 lead at the intermission.

Behind senior guard Boo Buie, who poured in 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting, NU recorded 1.31 points per possession. Audige, junior guard Ty Berry and sophomore guard Brooks Barnhizer comprised much of the other production, combining for 19 first-half points. 

  1. Audige and Berry break shooting slump 

After combining to shoot 4-of-24 from the field against Penn State last week, Audige and Berry clearly hit the reset button Thursday at Golden 1 Center. 

Amid the Cats’ recent skid, which saw the team drop four of its last five games ahead of Thursday, the duo’s recent shooting struggles characterized those defeats. 

Officially in win-or-go-home mode, Audige and Berry rose to the occasion, lifting NU with 33 points on an efficient 10-of-19 shooting performance, including 6-of-13 from beyond the arc. Though Buie was once again NU’s offensive catalyst, the duo delivered several crucial buckets throughout the second half. 

After Boise State cut the deficit to one point just four minutes into the half, Berry nailed a triple from the right wing to make it a two-possession game once more. Nearly 10 minutes later, when the Broncos trimmed the lead to three points, Audige buried a pull-up three-pointer in response. 

Needless to say, when all three members of NU’s starting backcourt are clicking, they can compete with anyone in the country. The Cats will need a similar performance if they are going to keep their season alive Saturday. 

  1. Rice heats up in second half, but NU contains Shaver, Degenhart

Entering Thursday’s clash, Boise State forward Tyson Degenhart and guards Marcus Shaver Jr. and Max Rice averaged a combined 41.7 points per game. It was evident in the first half that NU was focusing much of its defensive efforts on stifling the trio and it did so with great success. 

The Broncos’ lead triumvirate combined for just nine points on 4-of-11 shooting and four turnovers — Shaver exited the first half after rolling his ankle but returned early in the second frame. 

Out of halftime, Rice, who was 1-of-4 from three-point range in the first half, nailed a couple triples to get going early. While Rice poured in a team-high 12 points in the final 20 minutes, he did so rather inefficiently, making just 4-of-13 second-half shot attempts.

Still, the Cats’ focus on Shaver and Degenhart, who finished with a combined 20 points on 8-of-20 shooting, told the ultimate story, as a valiant defensive stand culminated in the program’s second NCAA Tournament win.

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Twitter: @CervantesPAlex 

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