A win is a win – right?
That was the mindset of the Northwestern men’s basketball team (4-0, 0-0 B1G) last Friday when they defeated Purdue Fort Wayne (2-2, 0-0 Horizon), 60-52.
“It wasn’t the prettiest game,” head coach Chris Collins said of the bout. “A lot of mistakes.”
Mistakes were abound in the game, as the Mastodons matched a season-high mark of turnovers in a game with 19, as did the Wildcats with 17.
The ’Cats defense ruled over the contest, and it showed on the stat sheet. Purdue Fort Wayne shot just under 33% from the field, and could only make under 23% of their three-point shots.
“That’s definitely our identity and our calling card,” Collins said of his team’s defensive effort.
Fort Wayne nearly matched Northwestern’s defensive effort though, as only one Wildcat scored in double figures for the night.
One Wildcat made the most of the night however. Senior guard Boo Buie willed the team to victory, dropping a season-high 28 points, and scoring the squad’s last 10 points to seal the deal.
Buie credited the stellar effort to those around him. “My teammates and my coaches just kept trusting me to go out and make the right play.” Collins directed the praise back toward his starting point guard, who also crossed 1,000 career points that night. “[Buie] had to take it upon himself. That’s what happens sometimes with a good player.”
The win comes as a relief to the group, considering it nearly didn’t happen. Northwestern led by as much as 16 points in the second half, but the Mastodons chipped away at that lead, trimming the Wildcats’ advantage to just one with two and a half minutes left in the game. That was where Buie closed the game out offensively, but that wasn’t what he or the team were focused on in the closing minutes.
“We have the lead, don’t worry about shots falling… as long as we get stops, they can’t win.”
Buie wasn’t kidding about getting stops. PFW didn’t score again in the last two minutes after the aforementioned comeback.
Leading the defensive effort were senior guard Chase Audige, who had three blocks and four steals despite fighting cramps throughout the game according to Collins, and junior center Matt Nicholson, who collected five defensive rebounds and two blocks while coming off the bench.
Nicholson said he sees himself as an “energy guy” and tries to add a “second motor” from his backup role.
Moving forward, offense has to be a concern for this lineup. Northwestern has now turned the ball over 14 or more times in three of their four games, and has yet to shoot above 43% from the field in any game this year. Although their defense has been good, allowing the third-least points per game of any team in the Big Ten, continuing to struggle on offense is not a recipe for winning basketball, especially in their conference.
Collins called the result a “really good win,” and it makes for the group’s fourth in a row to open the season. The ’Cats won their first four games last year as well, and given the disappointing finish to that season, there’s not enough evidence yet to have hope among the Wildcat faithful, and the team knows that.
“We’re not satisfied here,” said Buie of the undefeated start. “We’re still the same team that nobody believes in.”
Northwestern has the opportunity to earn some faith this week as they head to Mexico for the Cancun Challenge. They’ll play the Liberty Flames Tuesday, Nov. 22, and face off with either Auburn or Bradley on Wednesday. Buie sees the Challenge as a “business trip,” and Collins called it a chance to “get some resume wins.”
Maybe they can win without the late-game drama this time.