One of the most important terms in basketball is “rebound.” While it typically refers to grabbing the ball after a missed shot, it can also mean the rejuvenation of a long-suffering team, especially when a lucky bounce allows a squad to head in a positive direction, gaining momentum and helping them feel confident once more. For Northwestern men’s basketball (9-14, 6-13 B1G), there may be no better term to describe their win on Sunday, a 79-78 nailbiter over Nebraska (7-19, 3-16 B1G).
For the Wildcats, who picked up their third consecutive victory after losing 13 games straight, the game was decided on an incredibly important rebound by sophomore center Ryan Young; down 78-77 with just ten seconds to play, the ’Cats drove in and allowed Young to plant right in the paint. After junior forward Pete Nance’s sky hook just missed, Young boxed out the competition, grabbed the rebound and pulled off the putback to put the ’Cats back in front.
While the moment belonged to Ryan Young, the day certainly belonged to all of Northwestern; a season-high six players scored double-digit totals, including sophomore guard Chase Audige (14), junior forward Pete Nance (13), junior forward Miller Kopp (12), junior forward Robbie Beran (11), sophomore guard Boo Buie (11) and first-year guard Ty Berry (10). Nance also led the team with seven rebounds, while Buie whipped a team-high six assists.
Nebraska was led in their effort by senior guard Kobe Webster, who led both teams with 23 points with an amazing seven three-pointers, and junior guard Trey McGowans, who had a stellar day with 15 points, six rebounds and five assists.
The game was your standard Northwestern affair, with incredible highs and stinging scoring droughts all around; neither team was able to score over the first three minutes, but the ’Cats were quickly able to turn around and put together a scoring run on the back of Robbie Beran:
Of course, Nebraska was not complacent to be walked over, and quickly began punching their way through. Despite great defensive play from Audige and Berry, the lead was cut down to just 39-30 at the end of the first half.
Northwestern and Nebraska continued to duel throughout the second half, going tit-for-tat from three-point land and trying to keep the heat up. In typical fashion, however, the ’Cats went incredibly cold after the eight-minute mark, allowing the Huskers to make up the deficit and take the lead with four minutes left; it looked almost like Northwestern would end the regular season on a sour note.
Unlike other games, however, Northwestern refused to quit; working hard in the interior and using their big men, the ’Cats began to pull off fantastic paint shots, including a great sky hook from Pete Nance, and matched the Huskers on the other end. Then, with ten seconds left and down one, Young pulled off the fiercest layup this season, and Northwestern had picked up a three game win streak for the second time this season.
“We had an open driving lane… Boo [Buie] came off of a screen from Pete Nance, two guys went to Boo, and [Nance] had an open lane to drive, and he made a great play, attracted three guys, got it up on the glass, and I kind of left free because so many guys were attracted to that layup and I was able to rebound put it back in,” Young said, describing the play postgame. “We had a great, unselfish play from Boo to pass it back to Pete, and Pete attracted three guys. And just getting up on the rim was good enough because he had attracted so much attention there, so I was able to get the ball, put it back in.”
Key for the ’Cats this game was their offensive prowess, even more so without free throws. As has been the season-long trend, Northwestern was not able to pick up charity shots all game, and even missed more when they did, going 4-for-9. To make up for lost ground, Northwestern put on a shooting clinic, going 32-for-60 from the floor, and having six players score double-digit totals.
“Really excited about the win today,” Northwestern head coach Chris Collins said postgame. “I knew it was going to be a tough game… we knew that was a confident team coming in here, and they really got rolling in the second half… and fortunately, we made enough plays. It's only fitting I think, where you see that we had six guys in double figures, and the guy who makes the game winner wasn't one of those guys… that's a real team.”
With the regular season complete, Northwestern clinched the 12-seed for the upcoming Big Ten tournament, and will play Minnesota (13-14, 6-14 B1G) Wednesday night for the chance to continue their season. While it’s unlikely the ’Cats will be able to have a postseason to remember, momentum is on their side, and stranger things have happened in March.
All it takes is one good bounce to rebound.