It was a tale of two halves for the Nebraska men’s basketball team Wednesday night in the opening game of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. The Huskers dominated the first half en route to a 14-point halftime lead, but Northwestern outscored Nebraska by 16 in the second half, as the Wildcats rallied for a 71-69 victory.
The loss snapped Nebraska’s three-game winning streak, as the Huskers ended their season with a 10-22 record. Northwestern, which defeated Nebraska for the third time this season, evened its record at 15-15 and advanced to play Iowa on Thursday.
The Huskers stretched their 14-point halftime lead to 15 with 15:28 to play. But Northwestern responded to that 15-point deficit with a 14-0 run in less than three minutes. Nebraska continued to hold the lead until back-to-back 3-pointers put Northwestern in front by one with 6:24 remaining. From there, the lead changed hands twice and the game was tied twice before Chase Audige broke the final tie with the game-winning free throw 18.1 seconds remaining.
Down one with the ball, Nebraska was whistled for an offensive foul on its next possession, giving the ball back to Northwestern. Boo Bouie then knocked down 1-of-2 free throws to make it a two-point game and Trey McGowens’ driving layup with two seconds left was blocked to seal Northwestern’s victory.
After shooting 52 percent in the first half, Nebraska shot just 32 percent in the second half, finishing the game at 43 percent overall. The Huskers went more than seven minutes without a field goal late in the game, during which time Nebraska saw its three-point lead turn into a four-point deficit. Overall, the Huskers made just two field goals over the final 10 minutes.
Nebraska was effective at attacking the paint in the first half, outscoring the Wildcats 28-6 in the paint in the opening 20 minutes. But Northwestern outscored Nebraska by 14 in the paint in the second half. The Wildcats were the better team from long range throughout the game, as Northwestern was 10-of-30 the 3-point line while Nebraska was just 3-of-15.
Alonzo Verge Jr. led Nebraska with a game-high 21 points in his final game. He also added nine assists and seven rebounds, flirting with the first triple-double in Big Ten Tournament history. Derrick Walker tied his career high with 16 points, and he grabbed seven rebounds. Lat Mayen had nine points and seven boards, while Kobe Webster knocked down two of Nebraska’s three 3-pointers and finished with eight points.
Buie led Northwestern with 16 points, including 14 in the second half. Pete Nance also flirted with a triple-double, as he scored 14 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out eight assists.
Nebraska was dominant in the first half. Each team attempted 29 shots in the opening period, but Nebraska made seven more shots. Northwestern led by three at the 14-minute mark before Nebraska made a run. Four different Huskers scored during a 7-0 spurt that put the Huskers on top 17-13.
After Northwestern cut the lead to two, Nebraska built a double-digit lead with an extended run. Leading 20-18, the Huskers scored 15 of the next 17 points. That stretch ended with a 10-0 run that put Nebraska on top 35-20 with 3:45 remaining in the half.
Defensively, Nebraska held Northwestern to only two field goals over the final eight minutes of the first half. Thanks to the defense and an efficient offense, Nebraska took a 39-25 lead into the locker room after Verge capped a superb half with a layup just before the first-half buzzer. Verge had nine points, five rebounds and five assists in the opening 20 minutes, while Walker led Nebraska with 11 first-half points.
The beginning of the second half featured a series of small runs by both teams. Northwestern scored the first five points of the period to quickly cut the lead to nine. After the lead was trimmed to eight, Nebraska scored four straight points to push its advantage back to double digits. Following a Northwestern basket, the Huskers scored five straight points to cap a larger 9-2 run that gave Nebraska its biggest lead at 50-35 with 15:28 to play.
But Northwestern came back in a big way. The Wildcats used a 14-0 run over the next three minutes to make it a 50-49 game with 12:24 remaining. At the end of the run, the Wildcats were 9-of-10 from the field in the second half, including 3-of-3 from the 3-point line.
Following the 14-0 run, Nebraska scored six of the next eight points to stretch the lead to five halfway through the period. Northwestern cut the lead back to one a minute later before Verge converted a three-point play and Walker knocked down a free throw to give Nebraska a 60-55 win with eight minutes remaining. But Verge’s basket was the Huskers’ only field goal over the next 7:08 and Nebraska’s second-to-last field goal of the game.
The Huskers continued to lead by five until Northwestern hit back-to-back 3-pointers to take a 63-62 lead, the Wildcats’ first lead since the 13-minute mark of the first half. Nebraska got the lead back on a pair of Walker free throws before Northwestern built its biggest lead at 69-65 with 1:49 to play.
But Nebraska would not go down quietly. Bryce McGowens hit a basket and Verge knocked down a pair of free throws to tie the game at 69 with 1:01 to play. The Huskers then forced a missed shot on Northwestern’s ensuing possession, but the Wildcats got the offensive rebound which eventually led to Audige’s game-winning free throw.