Northwestern edges out Rutgers in overtime

By Andrew Kupfer

Looking to recover from a heartbreaking loss on Saturday to in-state rival Illinois, Northwestern delivered a complete game on both ends, beating Rutgers (12-9, 6-5 B1G) 79-78 and improving to a 3-9 conference record and 10-10 overall.

Well, that “complete game on both ends” was really what it looked like during just the first half. The first 20 minutes of the game saw some of the best basketball this team had played all year. The Wildcats shot 59% from the field and 6-13 from behind the arc. And all of the shots taken, except for Audige’s stepback attempt as time wound down, were open and high percentage. The ‘Cats also won on the offensive glass and gave themselves second chance attempts.

On the defensive end, Northwestern held the Scarlet Knights to only 39% on 9-23 shooting from the field. Rutgers big man Clifford Omoruyi was the only bright spot, putting up 11 points in the period. But the ‘Cats were running away with this one and deservedly led 43-25 going into the tunnel. First-year Julian Roper II piloted the team with eight points.

The second half was more of the same, but this time, the teams swapped roles. In this half, it was Northwestern that shot 9-23, including a stretch in the middle of the frame when the team made one of its last eight attempts. Rutgers, led by Paul Mulcahy, seized on Northwestern’s poor decision-making and lack of execution to fight back. Mulcahy scored 16 of his total 31 points in the second half and added five assists to command the Scarlet Knights.

Northwestern had led 52-28 with 17 minutes remaining. But, by the time there was just one second left in the game, Rutgers had gathered so much offensive momentum that there was a chance to tie it up. Mulcahy set up Omoruyi for a two-handed jam to complete the comeback. At the end of regulation, both teams were knotted at 70.

In overtime, Rutgers took its first lead of the game on a Mulcahy baseline jumper, but Audige hit a massive three on Northwestern’s next possession to win it back. After the ‘Cats took back the lead, they never relinquished it. Ron Harper Jr. had a chance to reclaim the advantage late in the period, but his mid-range shot fell short. Audige was fouled grabbing the rebound with one second remaining on the clock, and without any timeouts, Rutgers was finished. The Cardiac ‘Cats barely held on to win a game that should have been 40 minutes long.

Moving forward, Northwestern needs to get better at finishing plays, shooting efficiently and playing stronger defense in the paint. The team achieved these goals in the first half, propelling the Wildcats to a big lead fueled by quick defensive rotations and impeccable shot selection. All was thrown out the window in the second half and the team could not make the adjustments needed to stabilize the lead.

In the post-game presser, head coach Chris Collins said the following: “It doesn’t really matter, guys. You win by one, you win by 30 — it counts.”

When Audige went to the line to ice the game in OT, Collins wanted the crowd to give a standing ovation. For the first half, sure. But not for the rest of the contest. Like Collins said, Northwestern added one to the win column. But while that might have been the final outcome, after giving up that 24-point lead, this performance feels more like a loss.

The Wildcats travel to Lincoln for a battle against Nebraska (6-15, 0-10 B1G) on Saturday at 12 p.m. CT. Then, they’ll return home to take on Indiana (16-5, 7-4 B1G) next Tuesday, Feb. 8 at 8 p.m. CT. Matthew Coronado and Logan Schiciano will be on that call for WNUR on Mixlr. Tune in right before tip-off.