Northwestern falls to Maryland in double overtime

By Gavin Dorsey

The Wildcats giveth, and the Wildcats taketh away.

Once again, Northwestern (8-6, 1-4 Big Ten) suffered a heartbreaking loss, falling 94-87 to Maryland (9-7, 1-4 Big Ten) in double overtime Wednesday night. The Wildcats completed a furious comeback at the end of regulation and even took a strong command in the first overtime period but fell apart down the stretch for the third time in four games.

The Wildcats had given fans hope but ultimately took it away with another disappointing result, falling to just 1-4 in Big Ten play and giving the Terps their first conference win this season.

It’s a story we know all too well for Northwestern, a team that recently held double-digit leads against No. 10 Michigan State and Penn State and has a storied history of late-game collapses under head coach Chris Collins. Nonetheless, Northwestern certainly had its chances to add this game to the win column.

Pete Nance led the ‘Cats in scoring and rebounding with a stat line of 28 points to 14 rebounds, while Robbie Beran added a season-best 17 points and six rebounds.

The Wildcats started the game hot, jumping out to an 8-2 lead behind early threes from Beran and Boo Buie. Maryland’s Hakim Hart responded to the Wildcats’ early barrage of threes with a deep shot of his own to pull Maryland within one score at the first timeout break. A tough post layup from Ryan Young made the score 10-5 in favor of Northwestern, but a four-minute drought from the ‘Cats allowed the Terrapins to climb back into the game. Very sloppy play for both sides set the tone early, as both teams were failing to corral rebounds, racking up traveling violations and failing to shoot above 30% from the field in the first eight minutes.

Northwestern increased its lead to 17-11, its largest of the game, but once again, Maryland crawled back into it thanks to guard Eric Ayala. Ayala, who finished with a team-high 26 points and 11 rebounds, converted on a four-point play followed by an and-one layup to pull the Terps back to take the lead.

As both teams found their way out of their first-half funk and battled for the lead, Ayala knocked down another three while Hart added a layup on a possession that was extended by several offensive rebounds. On the last shot of the half, Ryan Greer drove into the paint, drawing an extra defender and finding Beran to tie the score at 30-30 going into halftime.

To put it lightly, the first half was less than ideal for both sides. Each team shot below 38% from the field, with four turnovers apiece. Maryland’s Ayala and Hart led all scorers with ten points each, while Buie and Beran led the ‘Cats, each with seven of their own. The Wildcats certainly had their opportunities early, but poor shot selection and inconsistencies were key factors in letting Maryland back in it, with Chase Audige (two points, 1-of-6 shooting) being a leading factor in the inefficiency.

While scoring struggles plagued the first half, both teams began to knock down their shots in a tightly contested second half. It appeared that Maryland might pull away, but the entrance of first-year Julian Roper provided a quick spark. Roper knocked down four points and his tenacious defensive effort set up the ‘Cats’ next bucket, putting Northwestern up 48-46 with 12 minutes to go and sending Welsh-Ryan Arena into a roar.

Ayala, however, came out of the next timeout determined not to let Northwestern’s rejuvenated energy become a trend, drilling consecutive shots from behind the arc along with three free throws. Luckily for Northwestern, Nance responded with two threes of his own to keep the ‘Cats in it.

As the clock wound down, Northwestern stayed closely behind Maryland, but its chances at a win dwindled by the second. A paint layup from Greer rattled around the rim and out, followed by a layup from Hart that seemingly sealed the deal for Maryland with only 30 seconds left.

However, the Wildcats forced a traveling violation, followed by a Nance three-pointer that brought them within three. On the ensuing inbound, Nance and Audige forced a turnover on Hart to give Northwestern a chance to tie the game with just 14 seconds remaining. A flagrant foul sent Beran to the line, where the junior nailed both shots. With just 14 seconds left, the ‘Cats trailed by just one with possession of the ball.

Nance received the inbound pass with his back facing the basket, then spun on his right shoulder and dribbled hard to the post, where he was fouled on the shot. With a chance to put the game away, the senior hit the first free throw but missed the second. Nance then contested an Ayala three at the other end, sending the game to overtime. The 6-0 run in the final fifteen seconds completed an incredible comeback for the Wildcats to tie the game at 72.

After a Maryland free throw to start overtime, Audige scored on a putback, and a stepback contested three but then fouled out. The ‘Cats got up by as much as five in the first OT, but a turnover off Nance’s foot kept the Terps close. Maryland guard Fatts Russell, who scored 23 points (13 in overtime), tied the game at 83 on an and-one layup with 31 seconds remaining.

Following a missed three and offensive rebound, Collins opted to call a timeout, giving the ‘Cats a chance to end the game with 3.2 seconds left. Buie looked for Nance on an inbound pass, but with three Maryland defenders on Nance, the potential game-winning pass was intercepted, forcing a second overtime.

The second period of extra time began with both teams knocking down a shot, but Northwestern went the next four minutes without scoring a point, essentially putting the nail in the coffin for the Wildcats. On one of the missed shots under the basket, Nance went down and had to leave the game, gingerly walking off the court. Nance eventually limped back in and hit a jumper, clearly still in pain, but it wasn’t enough as the Wildcats were outscored 11-4 in the final period. Northwestern finished the game making just one of its last ten field goals. Collins later said he believed the injury was a rolled ankle but didn’t know the severity.

Collins’ postgame presser echoed the thoughts of many Wildcat fans as the team underwent another tough finish to a hard-fought game.

“I’m really heartbroken for our guys tonight. I loved the fight and the heart in our guys to get it to overtime, and we tried to stay positive down the stretch,” Collins said. “We got the lead in overtime, and we just couldn’t get stops.”

On Saturday, Collins will attempt to right the ship by ending the Wildcats’ four-game slide in a rematch against Michigan State.