Almost six years ago, Northwestern forward Nathan Taphorn threw a cataclysmic full court pass to teammate center Dererk Pardon for a buzzer beater win over Big Ten Conference foe Michigan.
Now, the Wildcats (15-5, 6-3 Big Ten) appear to be repeating history with a fiery hot start to the second half of the 2023 season. Cruising past Minnesota effortlessly at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Saturday, NU earned its third consecutive conference win in a week after recovering from a 13-day COVID-19 pause.
While the Cats have dealt with trials and tribulations the past few years, the missing puzzle piece the program was struggling to find surfaced in redshirt senior guard Chase Audige and senior guard Boo Buie. Saturday’s conquest over the Gophers solidified the dynamic duo’s place as NU’s top dogs.
“We were preparing for the zone,” Buie said. “We know (Minnesota) likes to go under on ball screens, so we knew that if we set some ball screens and got under that, you just got to be confident, step up and take the shot.”
Audige and Buie combined for 45-of-the Cats’ 81 points at Welsh-Ryan, proving no matter the gauntlet, the duo is up for the challenge. Whether it was Buie facilitating the ball or Audige driving inside the paint for a jumper, the guards were fueling each other up and going off one another to be a lethal weapon for the NU squad Saturday.
Coach Chris Collins said the two New York natives have been solid for the Cats the whole season, executing on the floor and using their experience to assist the younger players on the team. As a collective, the duo recorded 10-of-16 team assists over Minnesota and fed senior forward Robbie Beran, junior center Matthew Nicholson and graduate student forward Tydus Verhoeven.
“(These guys) compete, and all they’re trying to do is win,” Collins said. “When you have those qualities, you have a chance, especially when you have two elite guards like we do. They led the way once again.”
While most programs in the Big Ten play to the advantage of size, NU’s leading guards make up for where the Cats lack in their smaller sized team. Buie’s vision for setting up his teammates on the perimeter or inside the charity stripe is a skill NU can use to its advantage this season.
Audige noted the importance of the students in the arena Saturday, saying the crowd’s energy really motivated the group to get the win at home. Although he and Buie have played an NBA-esque schedule this week — three games in the span of six days — Audige was far from fatigued after hosting the Gophers. Wearing a big grin and remaining calm, he said this win is another one under their belt and that the cats are looking forward to their conference schedule ahead.
The conference schedule ahead is something NU must look to keep nearly perfect if it wants to get back into the NCAA March Madness contention, similar to its historic 2016-2017 season.
And with alumni Bryant McIntosh and Taphorn being honored during halftime, Audige and Buie could be the next power tag team to lead the Cats to a similar fate, clinching the ticket to NU’s second NCAA Tournament exhibition.
Regardless of the commentary on the Cats’ squad and their turnaround from last season’s losing record, one thing is for certain: Audige and Buie are the critical components to ensure NU’s wins and losses for the rest of the season. While the guards are nearing the final chapters of their collegiate careers, the two players are leaving their mark on the Cats’ program.
As NU walks into another three game stretch this week, Audige and Buie will need to build on their success from Saturday’s matchup to secure more conference victories against heavy hitters in Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin.
“After games like today, we just chill out,” Audige said. “We just try to be smart. We all want to get in the gym and get shots up, but we gotta be smart with the minutes me and Boo are playing.”
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— Rapid Recap: Northwestern 81, Minnesota 61
— Men’s Basketball: The Wildcats’ offense goes uncommonly cold in backend of second-half loss to Michigan
— Men’s Basketball: Second-half struggles cause Northwestern to lose first Big Ten road game to Michigan
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