The Northwestern Wildcats (18-7, 9-5 B1G) defeated the No. 1 Purdue Boilermakers (23-3, 13-3 B1G) 64-58 on Sunday at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The win is Northwestern’s first over a top-ranked team in program history and is being hailed as a remarkable triumph and historic achievement for the school – particularly because the team has seen just one berth in the NCAA tournament in over 120 years of play. When the final buzzer sounded, hundreds of Northwestern fans stormed the court to celebrate with their team.
It was also Northwestern’s first win over a top-5 ranked opponent since Dec. 20, 2020, when the ’Cats pulled off the 79-65 upset over No. 4 Michigan State. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, however, the win was not as celebrated outside online communities, as the arena was closed to all except essential staff: facility workers and press.
While the win was certainly impressive, the ’Cats soon went on a 13-game losing streak that defined their season for all involved, including those covering it. It was during this time that I, as the sports editor for North by Northwestern, found myself locked into a relationship with the team that could best be described as rocky.
I first got involved with the team the previous season, as they struggled to rebuild a championship-contending core; a season that saw a final record of 8-23, 3-17 B1G. My first introduction to head coach Chris Collins was a bit rough, as I met him hours after basketball legend Kobe Bryant – whom Collins had known as a child, and worked with extensively on the USA Basketball team – passed away tragically. Collins was clearly shaken by Bryant’s sudden death, tearing up in the press conference and commenting many times on his relationship with him.
Three years after that – and nearly a year after dozens of pundits were calling for his ousting following another disappointing season – Collins took the podium once again, this time smiling and joking with those in attendance.
“All I know is that we had 64 and they had 58,” Collins said. “One of the reasons I wanted to come here was you have the opportunity to create historical things. How often in your life do you have an opportunity to create history?”
In the win over Purdue, Northwestern was led by fourth-year guard Boo Buie, who posted a dazzling statline of 26 points, three assists, four rebounds, three steals and three blocks. Buie was a constant spark plug for the ’Cats throughout the game, playing 38 of 40 minutes and at points being the only scorer for the team, keeping the squad close throughout the game.
Like Collins, Buie has a long, complicated history with the Wildcats. He first joined the team in 2019, seeing limited minutes as a first-year and trying to earn a starting role. He weathered the 13-game losing streak the following season, and witnessed as several teammates – Miller Kopp, Ryan Young, Pete Nance, to name a few – all departed the team to pursue playing opportunities at more well-known basketball schools: Indiana, Duke and North Carolina, respectively. Once, when I crossed paths with him in a first-year history seminar, I asked him whether or not the team would win their next game. His response? “Hopefully.”
“We’ve been through so many ups and downs, that it’s finally starting to show what the real us is,” Buie said postgame. “I’m just super excited that we were able to get this win today and show everybody what we can really do.”
The game began quickly, as both teams seemed to understand what was at stake for each other: Northwestern, the chance to knock off the No. 1 team, Purdue, the ability to prove their strength. The game began as a duel between the Boilermakers’ third-year center Zach Edey, a 7-foot-4 stellar athlete who finished the game with 24 points and eight rebounds, and Northwestern’s counterpoint, junior center Matt Nicholson. The two traded blows and dunks early, and got the crowd buzzing early.
Noting the energy and Northwestern’s defensive strategy – insane pressure in the paint – Purdue came out of their first timeout with a new idea: tactical three-point shooting. Using Edey as a failsafe, the Boilermakers began baiting the ’Cats within the perimeter and getting their sharpshooters – third-year forward Mason Gillis and first-year guard Braden Smith – wide open for downtown shots, building up large leads as many as 10 points.
It was a little disheartening; my dad, watching at home, texted me to say it seemed as if the energy of the crowd was too much for the ’Cats, and that they were letting the buzz of the arena overwhelm their ability to play decent basketball. It was a stark contrast to the vibe experienced two years ago, when – as part of the “essential staff” requirement – I was let into the empty Welsh-Ryan Arena to cover the games.
It was a weird experience, but one I won’t soon forget. There was the Illinois loss that saw the team get outscored 53-13 in the second half. There was the double-overtime loss to Indiana that saw the ’Cats almost overcome insurmountable odds and personal tragedy, but fail to stay disciplined down the stretch. There was the loss to Wisconsin which officially made it 13 straight losses, something I never thought I’d see in person. It got to the point where to avoid losing my mind, I would shoot a voice memo to my friend and then managing editor Olivia Lloyd ranting about what exactly I just saw, why it happened, and by what point she could expect a piece in so we could have something to publish.
Despite all this, I tried staying positive about the situation, writing pieces discussing what the team did well. I also got to cover the more-successful women’s basketball team as well, even sneaking two of my closest friends – Hannah Mae Zimmerman and Chima Aharanwa – into one of their games as fellow “essential staff.” Another close friend, AJ Anderson, also began working with me around this time, eventually picking up the mantle as NBN’s sports editor.
Two years later, we were all back in the arena, watching as the ’Cats desperately tried to claw their way back into the game. The lead Purdue had built up in the first half, on the backs of Edey, Gillis and Smith, stayed strong late into the second half. Edey in particular, with a raw strength and power that has likely gotten him plenty of attention from NBA scouts, seemed unstoppable, as once he had the ball in the paint, it was almost guaranteed he’d score. While Buie was doing his best to keep the momentum, it seemed almost improbable that the ’Cats would pull it off, as Purdue led 55-47 with just 3:43 to play.
That’s when graduate guard Chase Audige stepped up. Like everything else with this team, Audige has plenty of material that could be used as a Hollywood script. He first arrived with Northwestern after having to sit out a year due to transfer rules, arriving from William and Mary in 2020. He struggled immensely at points with scoring, often earning ire from journalists for his shot selection, but making up for it with scrappy defensive play. The common joke among my friends is that his typical statline is “5-for-14, 20 points.”
While he has been a critical part of Northwestern’s success this year, he still experienced insane cold streaks, including a performance against Michigan that saw him go 0-for-7 from downtown. Until this point against Purdue, Audige had been relatively quiet, only scoring five points and going 2-for-11 from the floor, and 1-for-9 from downtown… but he didn’t stop shooting.
3:43 to play, Purdue up 55-47. The ’Cats fire up a three-point shot that misses, but Buie picks up the rebound and throws out to Audige in the corner – the hardest shot to make in basketball. Audige calmly takes a moment, then fires: swish. Ten seconds later, Audige puts pressure on Purdue at the top of the key, gets a takeaway, and pulls off a spectacular dunk to pull the ’Cats within three.
Following two Purdue free throws, Audige doesn’t stop; he pulls off another quick jumper to pull the ’Cats back within three, and then, following an impressive effort by second-year guard Brooks Barnhizer that saw him swish two free throws and come away with a critical steal off of Edey, Audige is found wide open in the corner for a shot at glory: swish. 59-57 Northwestern, 1:39 to play. Welsh-Ryan Arena is shaking.
Audige isn’t done yet, however; there are still nearly 100 seconds left. Needing one more stop to almost ice the game, Northwestern once again puts the pressure on Edey, who can’t find a place to go with the ball, and Audige strips the ball away and throws it up to Barnhizer for the easy two.
Audige’s final statline: 6-for-16, 3-for-12 from three-point land, 15 points, two steals and – arguably – the greatest three minutes in Northwestern men’s basketball history.
“When my team needed me, I just tried my best to be there,” Audige said. “A shot went through, and then the rim started looking a little bigger.”
When the final buzzer sounds for a 64-58 Northwestern victory, it’s an unbelievable display of joy that won’t be soon forgotten. Olivia and I are texting about something we’d thought we’d never see, and she tells me she can’t wait for the voice memo. AJ and I find each other on the court and celebrate together, knowing that this’ll likely be the greatest sports event we may ever see as members of NBN. My dad is celebrating from home, telling me to send him photos once it’s all over.
Finally, Hannah, Chima and Jade Price – another close friend who joined our foray in late 2021 – and I gather under the basket. All of us collectively screaming in joy, we watch as Boo Buie hits a dance for the crowd, and finally snap one more photo together in front of the hundreds of fans on the court. Nearly two years to the date three of us snuck into the empty arena together, we find ourselves surrounded in an instance of insanity that has never occurred before in the 122 years of Northwestern men’s basketball.
Much will be written about this team over the next few weeks and even years, and the season is far from over. For me, however, this was it: this was the moment that made the losing seasons, the voice memos and everything in between, worth it. Go ’Cats.