Brooks Barnhizer drives to the basket. His career-high five steals set the tone in a tough game against Maryland. Photo by AJ Anderson/North by Northwestern.

Nothing is ever easy with this team.

The Northwestern Wildcats (13-4, 4-2 B1G) had to fight tooth and nail Wednesday night to secure a 72-69 win over the middle-of-the-pack Maryland Terrapins (11-7, 3-4 B1G).

“I just think we have winning character in our locker room. The only agenda in that locker room is winning,” Wildcats head coach Chris Collins said after the game.

Graduate guard Boo Buie finished the game with 20 points, and Maryland’s star fifth-year point guard Jahmir Young led the way with 36 points. He and Buie went back and forth on both ends of the court like two heavyweights in the ring, but it was Buie and his surrounding cast of characters who pulled away with the win.

The game was dominated by defense early as Maryland turned the ball over 10 times in the first half. Despite this, the Wildcats found themselves trailing several times early on. The ’Cats clawed their way back into the lead as the half wound to a close. Buie would then go coast-to-coast to nail a floater at the halftime buzzer, putting the Wildcats up 32-28.  

In the second half, Northwestern took a six-point lead with 13:55 to go–the largest lead by either team of the night–but Maryland quickly closed the gap in this competitive contest. Young willed his team back into the game, taking the lead with 30 seconds remaining as he drained a three-pointer, silencing the raucous Welsh-Ryan Arena. The ’Cats needed a response ASAP.

All eyes fell on Buie again, this time with 20 seconds left in the game as he drove into the lane and laid up a beautiful basket to put the ’Cats up for good. Fourth-year guard Ty Berry then hit four consecutive free throws to seal the deal.

The Terrapins struggled to hold onto the ball–committing 13 turnovers to Northwestern’s seven–but the Wildcats failed to capitalize on this, scoring just 11 points off of turnovers, the same amount as Maryland.

The Wildcats were, however, more balanced than the Terrapins, getting good minutes off the bench from second-year forward Nick Martinelli who matched his career-highs in blocks with one and free throws made with three. Third-year guard Brooks Barnhizer pitched in defensively with a game-high five steals and notched 15 points on the other side of the ball. Meanwhile, Maryland didn’t have all of their starters record a point and received no help off the bench. It was the Jahmir Young show for them, and that proved to be not quite enough.

Kudos to this Maryland team–who just beat then-#10 Illinois (12-4, 3-2 B1G), on the road no less–for pushing Northwestern to the limit. The Terrapins may sit in ninth place in the conference, but every game is a rock fight.

(For those wondering, Illinois blew out Northwestern by 30 a couple of weeks ago. The Wildcats get a chance at revenge in their next home game on Jan. 24.)

Northwestern wasn’t great against Maryland, but winning the close games and bouncing back after losses has been crucial to their success this season. They’re 3-1 in games decided by four points or fewer, including a massive overtime win over then-#1 Purdue (16-2, 5-2 B1G). They’re also a perfect 4-0 in games coming off of a loss.

Northwestern hopes that this is the start of a winning streak as they head on the road to Nebraska (13-5, 3-4 B1G) on Saturday, Jan. 20.

“I think overall we did enough as a team to be able to pull out a win,” Buie said of his team’s performance.

The ’Cats just need to keep winning, and nobody said winning would be easy.

Thumbnail photo by AJ Anderson/North by Northwestern.