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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Rapid Recap: Northwestern 72, Rhode Island 61

Daily file photo by Angeli Mittal
Sophomore forward Nick Martinelli and junior guard Brooks Barnhizer. Barnhizer led Northwestern with a team-high 18 points in its 72-61 win over Rhode Island Saturday.

Coming off a tightly contested victory over Western Michigan last Tuesday, Northwestern traveled to Uncasville, Connecticut, for the 2023 Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament. 

In this season’s multi-team event, the Wildcats (4-0, 0-0 Big Ten) opened their two-day, two-game weekend road trip facing coach Archie Miller’s undefeated Rhode Island (3-1, 0-0 A-10) squad.

Early on in Saturday’s matinee, NU blitzed the Rams on both ends, opening up a 20-point lead after just 12 minutes of action. Coach Chris Collins’ three captains — graduate student guard Boo Buie, senior guard Ty Berry and junior guard Brooks Barnhizer — combined for 18 of the team’s 22 opening points. 

But Rhode Island responded with an emphatic offensive flurry of its own to close the first half to cut the deficit to seven points entering the intermission.

“They hit us with a run and it was really important for us at halftime to just resettle ourselves,” Collins said. “Our guys did a good job of not short circuiting and panicking. (We) talked about, ‘Hey, let’s come out to start the second half and reestablish how we want to play this game.’ And that’s what we did.”

In the second half, the Rams would never trim the lead to less than nine points as the ‘Cats cruised to an eventual 72-61 win, led by 47 points from Collins’ captaincy triumvirate. 

Here are three takeaways from NU’s game against Rhode Island:

1. The ‘Cats blitz Rams with scoring flurry early, sputter as first half wanes

Of NU’s six made shots ahead of the under-12 media timeout, five came from close range. The ‘Cats made it a priority to get and convert easy looks around the rim, kicking off their scoring streak with a dunk from senior center Matthew Nicholson and layups from Buie and Berry.

After connecting on just six of their 26 3-point attempts against Western Michigan, the ‘Cats took only three shots from beyond the arc in the opening eight minutes. Out of the three-minute commercial hiatus, Berry bucked the trend, knocking down a pair of triples to hand NU a 22-2 advantage.

Entering the penultimate media timeout of the first half, the ‘Cats had eight assists on nine buckets. Their defense had also suffocated Rhode Island, holding Miller’s squad to a mere two points and forcing six turnovers during the stretch.

“Our guys were really locked in defensively,” Collins said. “We forced tough shots, we were protecting the lane well and then we were executing (well offensively). They were overplaying a lot (and) we were able to get some back cuts and loosen the pressure a bit.”

But the Rams quickly rebounded, engineering a 22-6 run in six minutes to trim NU’s advantage to four points. A trio of free throws from Barnhizer and a layup from graduate student center Blake Preston eventually reclaimed some momentum for the ‘Cats, who held a 33-26 advantage at halftime. 

2. Preston, Barnhizer and Martinelli dominate the glass

Collins talked ad nauseam in his Tuesday postgame press conference about his team’s calamitous effort on the glass against the Broncos — the ‘Cats were out-rebounded 43-21. 

“It was a huge point of emphasis,” Collins said regarding his team’s rebounding presence. “(Rhode Island) came into the game almost plus-11 on the glass … so there was no question that was one of the top things on our scouting board — getting on the glass today.”

Facing a Rams team which started a pair of 6-foot-9 bigs, NU could ill afford to suffer the same listless rebounding performance in a second consecutive game. The ‘Cats held a 24-20 advantage on the glass in the first half, propelled by the tenacious efforts of Preston, Barnhizer and sophomore forward Nick Martinelli, especially on the offensive end.

Preston nabbed a team-high nine boards in 10 minutes of first half action, including six on the offensive glass. Barnhizer, NU’s walking double-double early in the season, snagged six rebounds in the first frame, while Martinelli, who seems to have a magnet-like attraction to the ball, added three offensive rebounds as well. 

“They have a real nose for the ball,” Collins said. “A lot of it is just effort — they pursue their own misses (and) they see where the ball’s at. … Those are such big plays when you can gain those extra possessions.”

The ‘Cats finished the game out-rebounding the Rams 39-30, including 18-12 on the offensive glass. 

3. The ‘Cats prepare for date with Mississippi State on Sunday

Collins and company will look to secure the program’s first-ever multi-team event title in his tenure against the Bulldogs on Sunday. 

Mississippi State knocked off Washington State 76-64 in the opening game of the tournament, aided by 13 points apiece from forward Cameron Matthews and guard Josh Hubbard. 

Despite playing without preseason first team All-SEC forward Tolu Smith, the Bulldogs are 4-0 on the season and boast a top-five defense nationally, according to KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric — albeit on a small four-game sample size. 

“It would mean a lot,” Collins said of the prospects of winning the early-season tournament. “You only get a chance during the season to play for a couple of championships. … To have a game tomorrow against an outstanding Mississippi State team — very athletic, very well-coached — to bring a trophy back to Evanston, our guys are going to be really motivated to play the game.”

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Twitter: @CervantesPAlex 

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