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 season screeches to a halt against No. 1 UConn

Angeli Mittal/The Daily Northwestern
UConn center Donovan Clingan soars to control possession in the paint against Northwestern Sunday night.

BROOKLYN, N.Y.  — Every team will ultimately reach the end of the road in the 2023-24 campaign, and all squads in the field of 68 — save for the NCAA champions — will walk away empty-handed.

No. 9-seed Northwestern’s Sunday night clash with No. 1 overall seed UConn marked the season’s end for coach Chris Collins’ group in a comprehensive 75-58 defeat. Once the final buzzer struck, confirming a result decided long before the game’s closing moments, players and coaches solemnly stepped off the Barclays Center floor.

“It wasn’t our night tonight,” Collins said. “But, every team except for one is gonna feel like us. Unfortunately for us, that night was tonight. We ran into a team that outplayed us.”

The game had all the makings of David versus Goliath. A once overlooked point guard, graduate student guard Boo Buie, and his potentially potent supporting cast looking to send him off on a high note crossed paths with the reigning national champions in search of a repeat title.

However, the Huskies (33-3, 18-2 Big East) quashed any semblance of an upset shot early in the matchup, leaving the Wildcats (22-12, 12-8 Big Ten) in an insurmountable deficit. Buie had slain many giants in his storied career, but Sunday proved a taxing tale for the playmaker.

Behind UConn center Donovan Clingan’s infallible post presence, the Huskies built a 40-18 halftime lead. The 7-foot-2 phenom finished the night with a near-triple-double, posting 14 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocks. Running the show, UConn guard Tristen Newton poured in 20 points and dished out 10 assists.

Collins said the Huskies’ collective strength made it difficult to key in on stymying one scorer. 

“They’re really good, (and) the thing about it is, there’s not a whole lot of weaknesses,” Collins said. “They have five guys who can all score. They’re very athletic. I was very impressed with their defense … They have all the ingredients to win another championship.”

In Buie’s final collegiate game, Newton and guard Stephon Castle hounded NU’s program cornerstone, holding him to nine points on a 2-of-15 clip from the field. UConn coach Dan Hurley said slowing down Buie from beyond the arc was a pivotal point of emphasis, and his team allowed zero downtown conversions on the graduate student guard’s three tries.

In a familiar fighting fashion for the ‘Cats, Collins’ team gave one final second-half push rather than capitulating a sure-defeat.

“We just struggled in the first half, and at halftime we were basically saying ‘Settle down, come out here and fight,’” Buie said. “We were down a lot at that point, but we just looked at it as if it was 0-0. We knew we weren’t going to quit because that’s not us.”

Although the year came to a decisive end for NU, the ‘Cats embarked on a journey fitted with tumultuous twists and turns, continuing to battle at every step of the way. The team’s story will not be defined by one loss — or any statement win, for that matter.

 Instead, NU proved a program predicated upon an innate ability to weather a storm.

“They emptied the tank,” Collins said. “They maxed it out. We maxed every ounce of what we had.”

When senior center Matthew Nicholson sustained a season-ending injury less than a month after senior guard Ty Berry’s campaign ended, Collins plugged in two young players to fill their lofty shoes. 

With sophomore forward Nick Martinelli and redshirt freshman forward Luke Hunger stepping into starting roles, sophomore walk-on guard Blake Smith carved out his own rotational piece, where he brought effort and intensity on the hardwood. 

Of course, the tale must have its central figure in Buie, whose fabled career further stretched into immortality this season. Buie and graduate student guard Ryan Langborg formed a lethal tandem from beyond the arc this season, clicking together as if they’d shared the floor for four seasons rather than one.

Accompanying Buie’s departure, junior guard Brooks Barnhizer will now look to make the next step from a stellar second-option to superstar status. Barnhizer left it all on the court this season, tearfully embracing his teammates and coaches upon his final departure.

Much remains unknown regarding the ‘Cats’ future prospects and how the team will attack the offseason. Potential stars may pitter out, and some considered down-and-out may rise like never before. But, NU’s legacy will long outlast its final step of a winding path.

“This team will hold a special place in my heart forever,” Collins said.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @jakeepste1n 

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