Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

McGowens Sets Program Freshman Scoring Record, but Northwestern wins 77-65

February 22, 2022

Northwestern knocked down a 3-pointer on the opening possession Tuesday night, setting the tone for a wire-to-wire 77-65 win for the Wildcats over Nebraska at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

The Wildcats matched their total of 13 3-pointers from the previous meeting, an 87-63 win in Lincoln, and shot 40.6%. Nebraska only hit seven 3s at a 29.2% clip, and that gap was too much for the Huskers to overcome despite a slight edge in the paint and at the free-throw line.

Bryce McGowens recorded his second double-double of the season with 15 points, 10 rebounds and four assists, and in the process he surpassed Dave Hoppen’s program record of 445 points by a freshman. He is at 452 points with four regular season games and the Big Ten Tournament remaining.

“He’s just continued to work and continued to get better,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said during his post-game interview on the Huskers Radio Network. “We’ve talked a lot about how much he’s put into the way weight room and you just see how much better he’s playing through physicality. I didn’t think he got off to a great start tonight but he kept with in and in the second half he had a nice little stretch where he really got it going. That’s the thing, for a freshman in this league to improve the way that he has over the course of the season says everything you need to know about Bryce and his work ethic and he’s just continued to grow. The other thing was the 10 rebounds, I thought he’d did a really good job of going in there and mixing it up.”

Alonzo Verge Jr. matched McGowens with 15 points, but the duo shot a combined 11-of-30 from the field. Kobe Webster chipped in 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting off the bench. Nebraska shot 41.4% from the field with 15 turnovers.

Northwestern shot 50% from the field as Pete Nance led the way with 20 points, five rebounds and five assists. Boo Buie and Chase Audige added 15 apiece while Ty Berry chipped in 10 off the bench.

The Wildcats opened the game with a 7-0 run, then used another one up open up a 12-point lead by the under-12 timeout. The Huskers missed nine of their first 12 shots and turned the ball over five times to dig itself a hole early.

Webster hit a 3 out of the timeout to end a nearly four-minute scoring drought. Northwestern scored the next four points to take its largest lead yet at 24-10, but the Huskers gradually clawed their way back into the game from there, cutting the deficit down to seven at 28-21 after buckets from Verge and Lat Mayen.

A chaotic sequence featuring four straight turnovers (two by Northwestern, two by Verge) led to a transition 3 for Audige that pushed the Wildcat lead back to 11, but Verge made up for his mistakes with back-to-back layups, sparking an 8-3 finish to the half for the Huskers. Verge blocked a Buie 3 on the final possession to make it 37-31 Northwestern at halftime.

“The start of both halves was what did us in,” Hoiberg said. “We didn’t hit shots early and it got us stagnant. They got it going from 3-point line. I thought we ended the first half beautifully, nine of our last 13 to crawl back in it and I thought we did a really good job cutting off of our posts as opposed to holding it in the slot. It’s a big emphasis was to get that thing to Derrick and play off him; Derrick had five assists in the game tonight and good things happened. I thought we cut really well to end the half and get back into it.”

The Wildcats knocked down seven triples in the first half, but it took them 21 attempts to get there. Northwestern’s three double-digit scorers on the season — Buie, Nance and Audige — combined for 25 points including 5-of-12 from deep.

Verge led all scorers with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting plus a pair of free throws. Nebraska shot just 3-of-11 from deep but outscored the Wildcats 16 to 10 in the paint. Eight first-half turnovers led to eight points for Northwestern.

Nebraska opened the second half with a set to get Mayen a layup, cutting the deficit to four, but Northwestern answered with a 9-0 run as the Huskers missed four straight shots with a turnover, pushing the lead back to 13 at 46-33.

Trey McGowens broke up the run with a steal and a score, then his brother split a pair of free throws to cut it to 10, but Northwestern pushed the lead back to 14. Bryce McGowens scored at the rim then split a pair of free throws to move past Hoppen on the freshman scoring chart, then he answered a Northwestern 3 with a tough turnaround jumper to make it a 12-point game.

Northwestern blew the game open with a 13-4 run featuring three triples, however, taking a 21-point lead with seven-and-a-half to play. 

After missing their first eight 3-pointers of the second half, the Huskers knocked down triples on back-to-back possessions to cut the deficit to 15 with four-and-a-half to play.

A Robbie Beran put-back pushed the lead back to 17, but Nebraska made one last push with a 9-0 run featuring back-to-back 3s from Webster and Verge, but Audige knocked down a pull-up jumper and the Huskers came up empty on the other end, ending the come-back attempt.

“We scored the first bucket, cut that thing to four and then they go on a run on us again and really opened it up,” Hoiberg said. “That’s that’s all it takes is those three-, four-minute stretches that we continue to talk about after these games. But we kept competing, we fought all the way. I put in a press that I thought we executed pretty well, scored more points off turnovers, out-scored them in points in the paint. The 3-point line again, that was a story in the first game and the story again tonight.”

Northwestern shot 6-of-11 from deep in the second half and 55.6% overall. The Huskers shot 37.9% including 4-of-13 from deep.

The Huskers will return to Pinnacle Bank Arena on Friday for one final home game — against a 25th-ranked Iowa team that just smacked Michigan State 86-60 on Tuesday — before closing out the regular season with three straight road games.

“Last home game, we’ve got to hopefully go out and get off to a great start and play 40 minutes of consistent basketball,” Hoiberg said. “Iowa is playing great right now, it’s as good as any team in our league with the guy who is probably going to be the Player of the Year in the league in Keegan Murray. So it’s just about coming home and giving out fans one last game to hopefully cheer about and feel good about and give our seniors something to remember.”

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