Second-half scoring explosion propels Northwestern to win in season opener
By Ben Moskow
Northwestern men’s basketball (1-0, 0-0 B1G) rode several hot hands in the second half to steamroll Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-4, 0-0 SWAC) 92-49 in the Wildcats’ first action of the 2020-21 season. The 53 second-half points were the most Northwestern has scored in a half since a 96-31 drubbing of Chicago State in 2017.
The Golden Lions, who finished dead-last in the country in points per game last season, used their speed advantage to get to the foul line with frequency early, but didn’t have much else to draw on offensively. Half-court defense proved to be Northwestern’s greatest strength; when the Wildcats slowed down the fast break, they forced UAPB to heave up long, contested jump shots, completely sealing off the paint.
The first half saw streaky shooting from the Wildcats, who encountered mixed results against the Golden Lions’ zone defense. NU went 5-of-19 from the field to begin the game followed by 9-of-9 and 0-of-6 shooting stretches. This lack of consistency coupled with strong ball control from the Golden Lions, who committed just two first-half turnovers, made it a game at the half, where Northwestern led 39-29.
From the moment the second half began, however, it was a completely different ballgame. Turnover woes for UAPB and hot shooting allowed Northwestern to pull away, taking advantage of transition opportunities to go on a 25-6 run in the first eight minutes of the second half. On the game, the Wildcats had a 28-3 advantage in fast break points and went 14-of-29 from 3-point range.
William and Mary transfer Chase Audige, who head coach Chris Collins touted as “one of the best players in practice” last year, looked like an offensive force in his debut, scoring 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting. The redshirt-sophomore guard looked strong in transition and made the most of his 3-point opportunities, shooting 3-of-8 from beyond the arc.
The Wildcats assisted on 25 of their 32 field goals compared to just seven assists for the Golden Lions, 15 of which game from guards Ryan Greer and Boo Buie. Greer shined in his first career start with team-highs of eight assists and a plus-minus of +36. Buie, who felt under the weather and was a game-time decision, put up eight points and seven assists off the bench in 22 minutes.
The large second-half lead, which ballooned as high as 44, allowed the Wildcats to give their first-years and walk-on players some extended run. First-year guard Ty Berry finished with 15 points, all of which came in the second half, to go with six rebounds and two blocks. Center Matt Nicholson played the final seven minutes and all four walk-ons saw court time as well, with Dom Martinelli grabbing one rebound and Eric Zalewski recording an assist in brief stints.
UAPB guard Shaun Doss, who came in leading the team in scoring with 19.3 points per game, was limited to just 10 points. Junior Jalen Lynn paced the Golden Lions with 12 points and Markedric Bell scored 11. Bell and Doss combined to shoot 6-of-30 from the field.
Northwestern returns to action this Saturday when the Wildcats take on Chicago State at home, in search of their second non-conference win. The conference slate will begin December 20 at Welsh-Ryan Arena against No. 8 Michigan State. All home men’s basketball games will be broadcast here on WNURSports.com.