Boo Buie drives to the basket. He was the lone bright spot for Northwestern on Thursday against the Wolverines. Photo by Brandi Simpson / North by Northwestern

In not-so-surprising news these days, Northwestern men’s basketball falls again after another heartbreaking second half collapse.

Despite a promising start for Northwestern (15-7, 6-5 B1G), Michigan (12-10, 6-5 B1G) found its offensive rhythm quickly after the break and never looked back, beating the ’Cats 68-51 at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

“Tonight was not an offensive masterpiece from us,” said fourth-year point guard Boo Buie after the game.

The defense played well in the first half, holding Michigan to 29% shooting with their strength and physicality; however, it felt like the ’Cats were walking a very thin tightrope. They struggled to get separation and force turnovers, and when fatigue roared its ugly head, the game was all but over.

To be blunt, it was ugly. Northwestern coach Chris Collins noted that even though the halftime score was close, the team wasn’t playing with their usual energy and intensity. Northwestern struggled to score throughout the whole game, whereas Michigan’s halftime adjustments allowed them to go on an 18-2 run and take command early in the second half.

The Wildcats lacked offensive rhythm, smart shot selection and the willpower to force Michigan to play at their pace, which is “not indicative of how [they've] played,” according to Collins. This Northwestern team prides itself on leadership, making smart decisions and playing unrelenting defense, and when they lose track of this identity, things can quickly spiral out of control.

While third-year Hunter Dickinson, Michigan’s All-American center, usually attracts the most attention, Collins emphasized how Michigan’s supporting cast stepped up in a way that Northwestern’s did not. Dickinson led the way with 19 points, but second-year guard Kobe Bufkin had 15 points, eight assists and 12 rebounds, and graduate student guard Joey Baker scored 14 from the bench.

Collins is not one to make excuses, but he noted that Northwestern’s unrelenting schedule, made worse by the team’s COVID outbreak two weeks ago, has definitely had an effect on the team, saying that, “we need to get refreshed.” While giving Michigan credit for playing well, especially in the second half, Collins’ knows that his team “lost mentally.”

Buie was the bright spot offensively for the ’Cats, leading all scorers with 23 points. However, he was not satisfied with his performance, saying that “I could have done a better job leading,” in his post-game interview.

Northwestern’s second star guard, fifth-year Chase Audige, struggled offensively. He ended with 10 points on 4-16 shooting and 0-7 from three point land. At the half, Audige was 0-9 on field goals.

Lacking depth, the team disproportionately relies on both Buie and Audige to carry the offensive load. After the game, second-year guard Brooks Barnhizer commented that it’s everyone else’s job to “take the pressure off Chase and Boo as much as we can.” While Buie and Audige will still be expected to put in 35+ minutes a night, the return of second-year guard Julian Roper II adds another capable defensive piece to the Northwestern rotation.

This is Northwestern’s second straight loss after opening their six-games-in-two-weeks gauntlet 3-0, dropping them to 6-5 in the Big 10 and 15-7 overall. The standings are extremely close in the conference (minus Purdue), as every team is beating up on each other. Both coaches emphasized the importance of each game because nothing comes easily. Coach Collins has taught his Wildcats that they have to “find one on the road if you drop one at home.”

That’s what the team will try to do when they travel to Madison on Sunday to take on the Wisconsin Badgers (13-8, 5-6 B1G). With both teams battling for standing positions, and maybe even NCAA tournament bids, this game will be crucial to whether or not this Northwestern team fizzles out of national relevance, or goes down in history.

Thumbnail Photo by Brandi Simpson / North by Northwestern