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The Daily Northwestern

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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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Men’s Basketball: Northwestern secures unlikely victory at Maryland

Daily file photo by Henry Frieman
Sophomore guard Blake Smith looks to make a pass against Indiana. Smith logged 27 minutes at Maryland Wednesday night.

After knocking off the defending champions in a 38-9 Super Bowl XVIII smackdown of Washington, then-Los Angeles Raiders owner and general manager Al Davis delivered a three-word statement that became a silver and black staple for years to come.

A high-rising former assistant coach who soared to the NFL’s loftiest heights, Davis coined his most famous phrase when asked about the challenges of navigating off-field distractions. He said success stems from having great coaches and great players, but there’s one thing that a great organization must hear.

“Just win, baby.”

For coach Chris Collins and Northwestern, Wednesday’s Maryland matchup embodied this 40-year-old motto to its core. Down graduate student guard Ryan Langborg and inserting walk-on sophomore guard Blake Smith into his starting five, Collins faced stacked odds in College Park.

However, the Wildcats (20-8, 11-6 Big Ten) staved off the Terrapins (15-4, 7-11 Big Ten) in their own building, nabbing a victory in the XFINITY Center for the second time in program history. Few would’ve given NU a chance to just remain competitive, but the ’Cats simply found a way to win.

Eyeing a second consecutive NCAA Tournament trip, Collins told Big Ten Network’s Robbie Hummel that his squad still had enough willpower to pick up a positive result.

“We still have a good team,” Collins said. “We still have enough to win.”

With both senior guard Ty Berry and Langborg out of the lineup, NU found no luck from 3-point range. Neither side could hit the broad side of a barn, and the ‘Cats canned just 2-of-13 treys, and Collins’ attack plan imminently shifted toward the post.

It wasn’t graduate student guard Boo Buie’s night, either. Fresh off a record-breaking night against Michigan when he ascended NU’s all-time scoring throne, Buie tallied a meager 12 points on 13 shots. 

Although NU managed to navigate its way to a 29-24 halftime lead through a rudimentary brand of hoops, it seemed a mere matter of time before Maryland mounted a killer run to quash the visiting challengers. Except, that run never came.

Terrapin coach Kevin Willard’s program centerpiece, Maryland guard Jahmir Young packed a potent second-half punch — but Collins had his answer. When the teams last faced off, Young dropped 36 points, and Buie had the last laugh in a cutthroat backcourt battle. But Wednesday proved to be sophomore forward Nick Martinelli’s to shine.

Earning a starting role after Berry’s season-ending injury, Martinelli added extra length for the ‘Cats to match his “herky-jerky” bag of tricks that Collins still considers indescribable. The ‘Cats needed every piece of Martinelli’s career-high 27 points to stay alive.

“I don’t know how he does it, but it works,” Collins said of Martinelli’s game.

While Martinelli stuffed the stat sheet, several other contributors stepped into an elevated role that made the whole far greater than the sum of its parts. Despite draining just one field goal, Smith’s defensive tenacity and 4-of-5 clip at the charity stripe emblematized Wednesday’s effort.

Originally intended to redshirt this season, Smith told his coach he wanted to step in to help his team push for a postseason bid in Berry’s stead, Collins said. Though he initially credited Smith’s teammates with believing in the walk-on, Collins made sure to give the sophomore his share of props.

“For that kid to come in and start on the road in such a meaningful game in late February that we needed to win — and the way he played — so proud of Blake tonight,” Collins said.

It wasn’t pretty — it was even excruciating at times — but NU survived in a 68-61 result that easily could’ve turned the other way. But with March less than 48 hours away, the ‘Cats will take every positive turn they can get.

As Davis said moments after receiving professional football’s highest team honor, it doesn’t matter how it comes, nor who steps up. 

Just win, baby.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @jakeepste1n 

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