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

Email Newsletter

Sign up to receive our email newsletter in your inbox.



Men’s Basketball: Northwestern’s role players ready when called upon in defensive dogfight against Penn State

Henry Frieman/The Daily Northwestern
Sophomore forward Luke Hunger attempts a jump shot against Penn State Sunday. Hunger logged 12 minutes off the bench versus the Nittany Lions.

Before Northwestern sought a Super Bowl Sunday season series sweep of Penn State, junior guard Brooks Barnhizer issued a stern challenge to his teammates in the pregame huddle. With the team’s long-range sniper senior guard Ty Berry out with a knee injury, he said other contributors needed to step in and fill the veteran’s void.

Down an x-factor caliber starter, coach Chris Collins’ group geared up to face a visiting side fresh off three consecutive victories.

For graduate student guard Boo Buie, each Big Ten tilt takes its own form of warfare — and he can’t secure a victory without his soldiers’ support. Buie said Barnhizer’s battle command rang especially true with Berry’s sharpshooting sidelined on crutches.

“Brooks had a great line before the game started — he was like ‘you can’t expect one person to come and pick up for what Ty had brought to the team, everybody has to contribute,’” Buie said. “Everybody contributes just a little bit to make up that hole.”

With Buie facing consistent double pressure whenever he gathered possession, the Wildcats (17-7, 8-5 Big Ten) required consistent effort from their entire rotation in a 68-63 victory over the Nittany Lions (12-12, 6-7 Big Ten).

Sophomore forward Nick Martinelli made his first career start Sunday, adding size to a lineup bereft of its typically dynamic shooting. Martinelli poured in 11 points and hauled in eight rebounds in 36 minutes. 

Collins said the sophomore’s newly formed starting trio — alongside Barnhizer and senior center Matthew Nicholson impacted his team’s prowess in the painted area, with improvements in both interior scoring and effort on the glass. 

“This is the second game in a row we’ve outrebounded our opponent, and part of that is what you get now with Matt, Brooks and Nick,” Collins said. “You got three bigger guys out there on the floor.”

Five games after reclaiming his starting spot against then-No. 10 Illinois, Nicholson packed a potent post punch on both ends of the floor. The senior unleashed several rim-shaking slams, tallied 11 points, grabbed eight boards and dished out three assists.

Barnhizer said Nicholson’s defensive effort and intensity helped catalyze Sunday’s close-run win, energizing NU’s entire rotation on an afternoon that seemed to lack a knockout blow.

“That’s the kind of Matt that we know, the Matt that we love and when he plays like that, we’re super dangerous because he gives us all the elements,” Barnhizer said. “We think of him as one of the best bigs in the league, and he holds his own … He gives other guys confidence to come in and give us minutes.”

While Collins tends to employ a short bench in Big Ten play, just three ‘Cats saw minutes off the bench. Sophomore forward Luke Hunger, freshman guard Jordan Clayton and sophomore guard Blake Smith logged a combined 25 minutes against Penn State.

Hunger canned 1-of-2 3-pointers, handing NU its first lead of the afternoon off a slick Buie feed. Though Nicholson took on the lion’s share of front court minutes, Hunger helped spell the seven-footer and keep him far away from foul trouble.

Although Clayton didn’t attempt a shot, he looked lively on the defensive end, and helped the ‘Cats achieve a plus-13 point differential during his 11 minutes on the floor. Collins said the freshman gains confidence every time he checks in.

“He’s not as starstruck, (he doesn’t have) that deer in the headlights syndrome that a lot of freshmen have,” Collins said, “Because of these COVID years and transfers, you see very few freshmen in the league playing.”

Clayton racked up four fouls Sunday, but Collins said he thought the freshman’s blocking foul could’ve very well been called a charge.

As the only first-year to see minutes this season, Clayton’s effort is a measure of consistency, according to Collins.

“What Jordan’s been able to do is come every day, keep practicing, keep working on (his) game, staying ready,” Collins said, “and then being ready for an opportunity like he has now. Hopefully, Ty will be back soon. We don’t know yet. In the meantime, he’s going to have to step up for his team, and we have full confidence that he can come in and do a good job for us.”

During the pivotal period that separates an NCAA Tournament trip from watching the madness from the couch, NU’s rotation must be prepared to weather any potential storm in conference play’s crux.

Collins said staying ready will be essential, especially for players who haven’t had their names called recently. 

“It’s all hands on deck,” Collins said. “Blake Preston didn’t get a chance today — Justin Mullins — but those guys gotta be ready. And, we talked to them about that … You never know when things are going to pop up.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @jakeepste1n 

Related Stories:

Rapid Recap: Northwestern 68, Penn State 63

Men’s Basketball: Northwestern’s ability to turn defense into offense catalyzes wire-to-wire 80-68 victory over Nebraska

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

More to Discover