Justin Mullins puts up a shot in an exhibition against McKendree. This 'Cats teams needs all hands on deck to be every bit as successful as last year. Photo by AJ Anderson/North by Northwestern

As the purple spirit and basketball fans filled Welsh Ryan Arena on Friday evening, Northwestern Men’s Basketball (2-0, 0-0 B1G) hoped to end their opening week with a second consecutive win as they faced the Dayton Flyers (1-1, 0-0 Atlantic 10) on home ground. After what would be remembered as a thrilling game, the ’Cats added a second win to the season, beating the visitors 71-66.

Coming into this game, NU started the regular season on the right track, winning the season opener on Nov. 6 against the Binghamton Bearcats 72-61. On the same day, the Flyers, who were preseason favorites in the Atlantic 10 Preseason Poll, won their season opener. Friday's game was the first time NU has hosted the Flyers in Evanston since 1998, making it a must-watch match. Both teams were aiming to add another win early in the season, but it wouldn't be easy.

NU opened up the scoring 15 seconds into the first quarter with a layup by graduate guard Ryan Langborg, the recent transfer from Princeton University. It wouldn’t be long before graduate guard Boo Buie, who scored 27 points against Binghamton, provided an excellent first three-pointer for the ’Cats. The ’Cats’s defense started strong during the first few minutes.

Nevertheless, even as NU maintained a clean lead at first, Dayton’s first 12 points came as three-pointers, one of their biggest offensive strengths throughout the game, after making 12 and attempting 23 total. Although the Flyers were not attacking with much consistency, when Northwestern gave them a chance, they took it.

As the game progressed, the Flyers took a minimal lead of 25-24 six minutes before halftime with a jumper by second-year guard Javon Bennett. But this wasn't enough as NU got back back into the game, controlling the final minutes of the half to create a 10-point gap, and going into the locker room 35-25.

Most of the game’s exhilarating moments were reserved for the second half. With an energized audience, NU looked to extend their point gap against the Flyers as the clock started to tick. The ’Cats increased their lead with an incredible three-pointer by Langborg in the first minute, who would tally up 19 points in this game. The ’Cats started with clearer dribbles and less hesitation, but the Flyers were right behind them trying to even it up. With a few more impressive three-pointers by Dayton, from third-year forward DaRon Holmes II and Bennett respectively, the game was tied up 38-38 only three minutes into the second half.

NU was in need of significant plays to dominate what was left of the thrilling game. Dayton’s defense proved a significant obstacle; there were moments in which the ’Cats could not find a way out of the opponent’s defensive barrier. Dayton, for the second time, took a lead of 47-45 with a massive three-pointer by third-year guard Koby Brea. Yet, NU would return the damage with a two-point jumper by third-year guard Brooks Barnhizer, who tallied an excellent 10 rebounds for the ’Cats. The game was heated, and both teams knew it. Most of the final 10 minutes of the second half consisted of back-and-forth plays, both teams vying for a slim lead.

With motivational chants such as ‘Let’s go ’Cats’ being heard from the crowd, NU wanted to end the final six minutes of the game strong. With two smooth three-pointers by the prominent fourth-year guard Ty Berry, the crowd was going wild during the final four minutes. However, Dayton would not let him get away with it, instantly scoring their own three-pointer thanks to Brea, bringing the score up to 62-58. Anything could happen at this point in the game, but after some impressively tight last minutes, two final free throws from Langborg would be enough for Northwestern to secure their second home victory of the season.

After starting a new season with their heads up, the ’Cats can hope to savor another victory Tuesday evening, when they'll face Western Michigan at Welsh Ryan Arena.

Thumbnail photo by AJ Anderson/North by Northwestern