As its hopes of playing in the playoffs in March dwindle, Wednesday’s game with No. 5 Purdue presented Northwestern with what was likely one last chance to topple a ranked regular-season opponent.
The Wildcats (12-12, 5-10 Big Ten) were unable to capture any magic, however, losing 70-64.
Senior forward Pete Nance put NU first on the board, nailing a contested two with the shot clock. After a pair of possessions in which the Cats were able to stop 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey on the rim, the second scored the Boilermakers’ first points on a penny from Eric Hunter Jr. NU couldn’t buy a bucket early , but committed four quick fouls before the Under-16 timeout as Purdue took a 4-2 lead.
A packed Welsh-Ryan Arena erupted following a flurry of Cats layups. Key reserves in second-year guard Ty Berry and redshirt junior center Ryan Young provided NU with an offensive boost. The pair had nine of the Cats’ 13 points in the Under-12 media timeout.
Nance’s second pull-up just inside the right wing tied the game at 15-15 midway through the half. Purdue, however, quickly responded with a 7-0 run to calm the NU faithful. Robbie Beran’s triple and a layup from Young provided the Cats with a much-needed score.
The Boilermakers remained in control, however, holding a six-point lead with just over five minutes remaining in the first half. NU’s patent pick-and-pop challenged Purdue’s frontcourt, primarily Edey, as Beran connected on a 3-pointer to cut Boilermaker’s advantage to one point. Edey knocked down a few free throws to extend the lead to three points in the final media break of the half.
Guided by Edey, who had 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting in the first half, Purdue led 32-28 at intermission.
The Boilermakers and potential All American guard Jaden Ivey eliminated the Cats at halftime, opening a 42-31 lead. A mid-range jumper from Beran, followed by a lay-up from Boo Buie (his first points of the game), cut Purdue’s advantage to nine points in the Under-16 timeout.
Young, who had eight points at this point, left the game with an apparent hand injury with 9:48 left in the second half and the Cats lost nine. NU continued to struggle defensively, especially freshman guard Julian Roper II who had two interceptions and two blocks in the half but couldn’t really lose his mind before it was too late. . The Cats cut the lead to single digits in the final minutes of regulation, but Purdue’s earlier advantage was too much to overcome.
TAKE AWAY FOOD
- Purdue’s crushing size is too much for the Cats
Needless to say, having a giant 7-foot-4 anchor inside is a blessing for coach Matt Painter and Purdue. Edey is a force to be reckoned with, and rightly so, but his overwhelming size was impossible for NU to match. Frontcourt members Nance, Young and Elyjah Williams – all 6ft 10in or under – guarded it at one point in the game. The IMG Academy product frequently caught the ball in the paint, turned to face the rim, and simply tried to move whoever was guarding him. And don’t forget preseason All-Big Ten member Trevion Williams, who is leaving the Boilermakers bench. Hampered by a few early fouls, Williams struggled to greatly affect the game in the first half, but hit a few buckets to get on the scoresheet in the second half. Edey finished with 14 points and eight rebounds, as Williams added four points and caught six boards.
- NU find attacking production outside of their big three
With Buie and Chase Audige scoreless in the first half, Collins found the score needed in the form of his reserves. The Cats bench recorded 16 of the team’s 28 points in the first period, led by Young and Berry who combined for 11. It was Beran, however, who had a team-high eight points at the intermission. NU were less capable in the second half, shooting 33.3% from the field, as Buie and Roper led the charge with 11 and 7 points, respectively.
- Any hope of a March Madness dream deal has all but evaporated
The clock is approaching midnight and the magic begins to fade around a Big Dance-style NU trip. If the reality wasn’t already grim before the game, the Cats’ loss to Purdue was likely the last real chance to earn a marquee, Top 25 in conference for NU. Hopes of the program’s second appearance in March Madness have all but died down, but the Big Ten tournament and a Cinderella run remain.
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