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: Fast offensive start highlights Northwestern’s wire-to-wire 90-66 senior night victory over Minnesota

Seeger Gray/The Daily Northwestern
Graduate student guard Ryan Langborg passes the ball. In their wire-to-wire 90-66 victory, the ‘Cats dished out 23 assists, while only having one turnover.

With all of the emotion surrounding Northwestern’s regular-season finale and postseason implications on the line, coach Chris Collins’s team needed a fast start Saturday night. 

The Wildcats’ (21-10, 12-8 Big Ten) home clash against Minnesota would be the last time graduate student guards Boo Buie and Ryan Langborg and graduate student forward Blake Preston would play at Welsh-Ryan Arena. 

With a victory, NU would essentially punch its ticket to the NCAA Tournament and prolong its graduate student trio’s respective collegiate careers. 

“When the ball goes in, it helps,” Collins said. “Everyone has a little bit of nervous energy,” Collins said. “It’s the last game of the year and you’re at home. The guys understood the importance of trying to take care of home court. As a coach you get nervous about the (disruption) in player’s rhythm on senior night.” 

And, after the ‘Cats dropped a first-to-50 defensive dogfight in East Lansing three days ago, their offense answered the bell early, paving the way toward a convincing 90-66 victory over the Golden Gophers (18-13, 9-11 Big Ten). 

Racing off to an early 11-2 lead, every Wildcat was involved offensively. After Buie’s three and Langborg’s pullup jumper, all five NU starters tallied a point in the game’s opening minutes. 

“We really came dialed in from the jump,” Buie said. “It always feels good to (start) out hitting those shots. As a player, if you score your first basket, that relieves a lot of the climatic pressure built up. When we got the first layup, we settled in and (just) kept getting really good shots. We were able to hit them with a strong first four minutes.” 

The ‘Cats didn’t look back and never trailed for the remainder of the game. Although Minnesota trimmed NU’s once double-digit lead down to three midway through the first half, the hosts went on an unconscious shooting stretch over the next several minutes. 

Canning their next nine attempts from the field — including five consecutive makes from beyond the arc — the ‘Cats built a 14 point lead with less than four minutes remaining in the first half. 

After junior guard Brooks Barnhizer’s 3-pointer with less than two minutes remaining in the first half, the ‘Cats tallied 50 points — surpassing their total offensive production in Wednesday’s loss to Michigan State. 

By intermission, NU shot at a scorching 21-of-30 clip from the field, including 7-of-11 from deep. Behind Barnhizer’s 14 points and Langborg’s 10 points, five Wildcats tallied at least eight points in the first half and buried three or more field goals. 

“We were humming offensively (over) the first half,” Collins said. “(Minnesota) was trapping Buie and we were moving the ball and making shots. We aren’t perfect. Although that first half offensively was probably the closest we’ve come in a long time.” 

Over their prolific shooting stretch this season, the ‘Cats have built an identity around taking care of the ball. NU’s 1.81 assist to turnover ratio is second in the conference and ranks in the top-ten nationally. During Saturday’s hot shooting stretch, this held true. 

NU had only one turnover all evening — including zero over the first half. Meanwhile, Langborg and Buie’s six assists apiece were part of 23 total dimes from the hosts. 

“This year, we’ve been a terrific offense,” Collins said. “We’ve been really efficient and (have) shot the ball incredibly well. To have four players on the floor have at least four assists, that shows our unselfishness and connectivity as a group.”

The ‘Cats’ hot shooting stretch during the first frame made it difficult for the Golden Gophers to match the hosts’ offensive intensity in the second frame. 

Capitalizing off of Minnesota’s inability to find any semblance of offense, Buie and Langborg’s jumpers capped a 15-2 scoring run and extended NU’s lead to 20 with less than four minutes to play. 

“It was great to start the game off like that,” Langborg said. “It comes down to our culture and the aggressiveness on the defensive end. When we lock in defensively, even if we’re not hitting shots, they will eventually fall.” 

By the end of Saturday, Buie, Langborg and Barnhizer each canned three treys. Buie and Barnhizer’s 23 points apiece led the hosts, while four Wildcats tallied double figures, with Preston’s season-high nine points trailing just behind. 

Entering next week’s Big Ten Tournament in Minneapolis, the ‘Cats will have a double-bye seeding for the second consecutive year. As his team enters its postseason campaign, Collins said the upcoming weekend presents a clean slate. 

“I couldn’t be more proud of the guys in the locker room,” Collins said. “We’ve got to rest up and put this chapter to bed. “We’ve closed the book on this 31-game regular season and now everything starts fresh. Now, the focus becomes next weekend trying to go to Minnesota and see if we can be competitive in the Big Ten Tournament.” 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @aayushyagarwal7

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