Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament hopes are still alive after a 64-61 victory over the No. 20 Purdue Boilermakers Wednesday night. Junior Kevin Coble led NU, now 8-9 in the Big Ten and 17-11 overall, with eight rebounds and 16 points. Junior Michael Thompson and senior Craig Moore also finished in double digits in scoring for the suddenly surging Wildcats.
Purdue looked to be in firm control of the game, leading by as much as ten in the second half, before Northwestern stormed back to tack the lead with a 14-0 run from the 11:07 to the 3:10 minute mark of the second half. Highlights of that run included a 3-pointer by senior Sterling Williams as well as a nice assist from freshman Kyle Rowley that led to a Jeff Ryan layup. By the time Purdue finally scored again on a lay up by E’Twaun Moore with 3:10 to go, the ‘Cats led 56-52.
Purdue cut the NU lead back down to two with thirty seconds left but the ‘Cats quickly responded when on the ensuing inbound pass Coble found freshman Luka Mirkovic open down the court. Mirkovic made the easy basket to put NU back up by four. On Purdue’s next possession, sophomore Robert Hummel was fouled but he missed a chance to get his team back in the game by missing the front end of a one and one. The Boilermakers had to foul Kevin Coble to prolong the game and after Coble made both free throws, effectively guaranteeing a victory, the Wildcats could celebrate their third win in a row.
The win avenges an earlier loss to Purdue. In the first match in Evanston between the two teams, it was Northwestern who relinquished a big lead in the second half. The NU victory also breaks a streak of seven straight home victories for the Boilermakers and drops their record to 22-8 overall and 11-6 in conference play.
Purdue’s high scorers were Keaton Grant and Moore, who each had 14 points.
The ‘Cats big comeback bolsters their claim to an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. If Northwestern can defeat Ohio State Sunday night and then win one to two games in the Big Ten Tournament, the NCAA selection committee will have to give the Wildcats serious consideration as NU can point to impressive victories over Florida State, Michigan State, Minnesota and now Purdue as evidence that they deserve to play on CBS come mid-March.