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

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

The Daily Northwestern

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Men’s Basketball: Northwestern’s Martinelli steps up in Berry’s stead, helps seal Nebraska victory

Francesco Thorik-Saboia/The Daily Northwestern
Sophomore forward Nick Martinelli looks to unleash a shot against Nebraska. Martinelli poured in 15 points Wednesday night.

Exactly three hours after nightfall descended upon Evanston, two NCAA Tournament hopefuls met for a no-holds-barred Wednesday wrangle in Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Fresh off a winless two-game road spell, Northwestern looked to flip its fortune and build on a perfect home conference resume. Riding into town on the back of a close-run defeat, at then-No. 14 Illinois, Nebraska turned its sights up Illinois’ interstate in search of its first away victory since Dec. 17.

“Needless to say, this was a big game for us,” coach Chris Collins said. “Really proud of our response — last week was a really difficult thing for us emotionally.”

As the Cornhuskers (16-8, 6-7 Big Ten) left another loot-free road trip, the proverbial purple and white wardens locked up a vital home result to bounce back from their weeklong lull. 

Packing an effervescent second-half energy, sophomore forward Nick Martinelli helped the hosts cruise to a wire-to-wire win. Martinelli tallied 15 second-half points and a pair of boards, answering the bell when his team needed him most.

The Wildcats (16-7, 7-5 Big Ten) kickstarted the duel guns-a-blazing from downtown, with graduate student guards Boo Buie and Ryan Langborg and senior guard Ty Berry draining first-half treys to give NU an early upper hand.

Although the ‘Cats solidified a 16-point halftime lead, Berry sustained a lower-body injury toward the first frame’s midway point. The senior didn’t return Wednesday night.

“He had a bit of a twist of his knee, and we’ll just get more information — the docs are all on it,” Collins said. “He’s such a leader for us, he’s playing the best basketball of his career. … We just have to step up — other guys got to — just like Nick.”

Buie was up to his usual playmaking antics, and Langborg poured in a crafty 18 points –– but Collins counted on his typical sixth man to carry heaps of the second half’s load.

Martinelli made his first second-half impact just 62 seconds after the break, finding Buie for NU’s opening three points in the second half. Less than three minutes later, the sophomore cashed in his opening points in the paint.

During a four-plus minute stretch in which neither team could seemingly take the lid off the basket, Martinelli scored eight unanswered points to help the ‘Cats build a 64-43 lead — Wednesday night’s widest margin.

Canning multiple 3-pointers for the first time in his young career, Martinelli’s extended range proved another element to his evolving bag of tricks. The second-year bagged consecutive treys off turnovers to further bludgeon Nebraska.

“I don’t take 3-pointers very much — I think it’s just confidence,” Martinelli said. “My teammates always tell me to shoot them. … Especially when Ryan and Boo can draw two … it’s just easy — I’m getting wide open.”

While the Cornhuskers appeared to be in contention to pull off a late-game surge, Martinelli leaned on his patented paint production that Collins said he’s still coming up with a name for — with the sophomore’s lethal left-handed floater at the forefront.

Despite the shot swiftly becoming his bread-and-butter, Martinelli said he can’t quite pinpoint his hook shot’s development arc. Regardless, when Martinelli finds that little bit of space, he can unleash one of the most potent weapons on this side of the Mississippi River.

“Just having that in the arsenal — I don’t want to say it’s a bailout shot, but it’s a shot that I can go to when a lot of times they don’t sit on it too much,” Martinelli said. “They’re probably more focused on scouting (Langborg and) Boo. … To get the ball in the post and not have people running at me because we have such good players on the perimeter allows me to get that shot.”

Long since he entered the season on a minutes restriction and carved out a solidified role as the first player off NU’s bench night in and night out, Martinelli looks primed to step into an even more crucial role for the ‘Cats.

With no certain timetable on Berry’s injury, the 6-foot-7 sophomore may soon log his first career start — perhaps just 10 miles down the road from his high school stomping grounds at Glenbrook South.

Surely, the former No. 7 recruit out of Illinois will keep befuddling opponents — and his own coaching staff — with his distinct flair and shotmaking prowess.

“The one thing about Nick is he’s really been shooting the ball well — it’s something he’s worked on,” Collins said. “We all know he’s got that herky-junky, funky — I don’t even know what to call it — but it works.”

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Twitter: @jakeepste1n 

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