It happened. For the first time in 50 days, Northwestern men’s basketball (7-21, 2-16 B1G) has won a game. Rejoice and cheer, Wildcat Nation.
And all it took was playing Nebraska (7-22, 2-16 B1G) again.
The ’Cats beat the Cornhuskers 81-76 in overtime on Sunday afternoon, ending a 12-game losing streak in a basement-dwelling classic for the ages. Between Nebraska missing 21 free throws and the ’Cats nearly losing another second-half lead, it was, blow-for-blow, one of the greatest Northwestern games you could've ever seen.
“Needless to say, it was a big win for us,” said Northwestern head coach Chris Collins after the game. “You saw it's been a while for both of us to taste winning … You could tell it mattered to both teams, and I was just really proud of our group to gut it out.”
The victory was a true team effort, with four players scoring double-digit totals. The ’Cats were led by first-year star Boo Buie, who continued his brilliance with 15 points, seven assists, three rebounds and four steals, and sophomore Miller Kopp, who led Wildcat scorers with 21 points. Northwestern also saw graduate transfer Pat Spencer score 12 points and redshirt first-year Ryan Young swish 10.
Nebraska also saw strong performances across the board. Senior guard Haanif Cheatham scored 20 points, junior Dachon Burke Jr. scored 19, and sophomore Cam Mack led the spread with 13 points, seven assists, and two rebounds.
The game was an unbelievable showdown between two teams fighting for cellar supremacy. First, the ’Cats jumped out to a 37-34 first-half lead after seeing long runs of up to eleven straight points, before Nebraska brought it back to keep it to within three. After trading baskets throughout the second half, the ’Cats pulled ahead by seven with just under five to play, but the Huskers came back and kept it tied to go into overtime.
That’s where it got gritty. The Wildcats once again ran out on a run of seven straight points, before the Huskers woke up and tried to pull it within two with clutch three pointers from Burke Jr. The ’Cats, however, locked it down on defense and nailed most of their free throws to win the game.
“We’ve had our struggles finishing games, and they [got] it to overtime on us. And we come out and score the first seven [points] there in overtime,” Collins said. “I was really proud of our group to regroup and get that first seven, get that lead which we were able to hold on to the rest of the way.”
It wasn’t the greatest tussle for Northwestern, however. While the team shot 46.3% from the field, they only made four three-pointers out of 17 shots, with three of those coming from Miller Kopp. Like a lot of games, however, the affair was settled at the free-throw line. The ’Cats drained 15 of 20 of their shots, while the Huskers went an abysmal 8-for-30 at the line, winning the game for the Purple and White.
It took six articles and nearly two months of positive writing, but I finally got to say it: Northwestern men’s basketball won a game. Hopefully the good fortune still applies when the ’Cats will travel to Madison on Wednesday to play Wisconsin (19-10, 12-6 B1G) before heading back to Welsh-Ryan Arena to face 16th-ranked Penn State (21-8. 11-7 B1G) in their last game of the regular season.