As per usual, the energy was electric in the Welsh-Ryan Arena Saturday night. The student sections were packed with purple. The roaring cheers were so loud it was hard to think.
NU started slow in the first half. The ’Cats took the lead five minutes into the game, but the Buckeyes stayed close behind. During the first 10 minutes of the half, the ’Cats never led by more than five points.
The team’s energy shifted when graduate transfer guard Ryan Langborg hit his second three-point shot of the game. It felt like a surge hit Welsh-Ryan Arena as the crowd went wild. Langborg fueled the high energy with a steal followed by another three-pointer. Chants of “RY-AN LANG-BORG” echoed through the stands. Langborg finished the half with 14 points.
Despite the high energy, the Ohio State defense was able to dampen the Boo Buie effect throughout the first half, containing graduate guard Buie’s impact to four points on four total shot attempts.
NU led at the half 41-30.
In the second half, NU settled in on defense. The ’Cats defensive rotation was often seamless.
“Our defense has been the best it's been, maybe all year,” Head Coach Chris Collins said after the game. “We made minimal mistakes … our communication was really good.”
Ohio State’s lack of open scoring opportunities was obvious. Ohio State’s graduate forward Jamieson Battle only scored five points during the entire game, a far cry from his 13.8 season average.
Later in the second half, second-year forward Nick Martinelli went to work in the post, scoring six points in two minutes from the paint. The energy of the crowd surged again. Second-year forward Luke Hunger added to the electricity with a layup off of a fast break that put the ’Cats up 81-46 with 03:41 to go in the second half. Martinelli and Hunger scored a combined total of 23 points in the game. Collins applauded Martinelli and Hunger’s combined effort and the “energy they brought” to the team.
“I thought our other guys fed off those two guys,” Collins said.
Nicky and Luke brought the juice 🔋 pic.twitter.com/pR7mB2MFLS— Northwestern Basketball (@NUMensBball) January 28, 2024
With about two minutes to go, the crowd had not let up. The energy remained high alongside the ’Cats massive 84-51 lead. Chants of “Gus! Gus! Gus!” began circulating through the student section. To the students’ satisfaction, Collins subbed in second-year forward Gus Hurlburt. This was the third time he had played since his arrival at NU last year.
“He deserves it. He comes to practice everyday,” Buie said of Hurlburt. “He shows up. He gives his best … I was happy for him.”
Vibes are ELITE in Welsh-Ryan 🎉 pic.twitter.com/sRVYCGqxPg— Northwestern Basketball (@NUMensBball) January 28, 2024
While Buie normally puts on a spectacle of basketball skill, he demonstrated a different ability last night that proves why he is the core of this NU squad: his team-first mindset. Buie kept calm throughout his first half scoring drought and leaned into the role of facilitator, picking up five assists, five rebounds and a steal.
“I’m proud of his maturity, his leadership,” Collins said after the game. “I thought he played a really mature game for an elite player.”
Buie’s patience paid off. He finished the game with 19 points going eight for 13 from the floor.
First-year guard Jordan Clayton saw the court more than he has all season. While he was not a force during the nine minutes he had on the floor, it is clear Collins wants to develop him as the next generation point guard for the ’Cats.
Purdue (19-2, 8-2 B1G) is next on NU's calendar. Last time these two teams faced each other, NU had a home court advantage. The ’Cats pulled off a stunning victory beating the Boilermakers 92-88. Home court advantage is not to be overlooked. While the ’Cats boast an 11-1 home record, they are 4-4 without home court advantage. Nevertheless, NU fans are looking forward to the ’Cats next matchup.
Thumbnail photo by AJ Anderson / North by Northwestern.