Northwestern and Indiana tussle during the two teams' game last year. The 'Cats and Hoosiers went down to the wire on this one in a low scoring bout, but Northwestern came out on top, winning 59-51. Photo by Brandi Simpson / North by Northwestern

Wins are like snowflakes; no two are the same. The Northwestern Wildcats’ (12-10, 5-8 B1G) most recent win against Indiana (16-7, 7-6 B1G) is most certainly unique when comparing it to the two wins preceding it.

The Wildcats' last two wins had been characterized by stellar offensive performance and large first half leads. So when poor shooting performance had the team down by four at halftime this past Tuesday, Northwestern head coach Chris Collins knew defense would be the key.

“It was just gonna be that kind of game,” Collins said of the defensive nature of the match. “We found a way to get enough points to hold them off.”

Northwestern was able to hold off Indiana for a 59-51 win. Defense did, in fact, turn out to be the star of the game, as the ’Cats held the Hoosiers to just 37% shooting, and created eight turnovers. Despite being the leading scorer in the game with 18 points, starting point guard Boo Buie credited the team’s performance on the other end of the floor.

“The whole game came down to our defense,” he said.

It was an important game for Northwestern fans everywhere, as the building shook with anticipation for the return of Indiana senior forward Miller Kopp. Kopp, who transferred from Northwestern last summer after playing three seasons with the 'Cats, was held to just three points in his return to Welsh-Ryan; a matter that several fans were keen to point out in the postgame celebration.

For both teams, the first half was defined by a lack of offensive production. Was it due to strong defense from both sides? Abysmal shooting? A combination of both? Who’s to say, but the fact remains that the first half was close and entertaining throughout.

Indiana junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis scored the first basket of the game on an impressive finish in the paint against senior forward Pete Nance while drawing a foul. That would happen to be one of the only few easy baskets for Jackson-Davis, as a team effort on defense from NU would result in him shooting just 4-13 from the field. Collins specifically credited Nance, graduate forward Elyjah Williams and junior center Ryan Young for holding the Hoosier star in check.

While this first basket quieted the previously rowdy Welsh-Ryan student section, a layup on the very next possession from Northwestern first-year guard Julian Roper II got them right back on their feet. This back-and-forth continued for the rest of the half, as neither team seemed able to capitalize on their opportunities to truly pull ahead.

Buie played floor general for the Wildcat offense, leading the first-half scoring effort with nine points, though nobody else seemed able to find their mark. Northwestern shot only 30.6% from the field, a gruesome 1-13 from the three. Luckily for the Wildcats, Indiana was also unable to find their rhythm, shooting only 41%. Going into the half, the Hoosiers led 30-26 in what felt like two teams stuck in quicksand, battling each other to see who could get out of their rut first. Despite the poor half in shooting, only being down four with such low metrics gave Northwestern hope that they could still pull away.

The second half started similarly to the first, as neither team seemed able to grab a safe lead, while continuing their offensive woes. With 16:48 left, a three from junior guard Chase Audige, after NU missed nine straight, seemed like an omen for better times ahead. While not entirely true, as the ’Cats would only go four-for-fourteen from three in the remainder of the half, it was just enough for the Northwestern offense to pull away.

Audige wasn’t done on the night, however, as he hit a three to put the ’Cats up 51-45 with 5:26 left to play right as Indiana seemed they were about to come back from seven behind.

Once again, it was a match of tug-of-war, but Northwestern, led by the scoring and decision-making of Buie, was unrelenting as they maintained a late lead deep into the second half. Buie’s biggest highlight of the night came when he calmly sank a three to increase the lead to eight with just 1:34 remaining, a sign of the confidence Collins and the team have in him in these tight moments.

“When the game’s on the line he’s not afraid,” Collins said of the decision to let Buie lead the offense late in the game.

Northwestern’s size was a crucial factor in the game, as they outrebounded Indiana by 10, and grabbed more than double offensive rebounds, notching 16 to Indiana’s seven. This effort didn’t go unnoticed by coach Collins.

“We had 15 more shots at the basket–that’s a big deal,” Collins noted about the ’Cats second chance creation.

The team also mentioned the environment in which they got this crucial win–in front of a sold out Welsh Ryan Arena, with plenty of students packing the stands.

“That’s what makes me more passionate,” Buie said of the raucous crowd. “The Wildside is definitely there.”

The ’Cats will look to keep the momentum rolling as they travel to Urbana-Champaign for a second bout with Illinois (17-6, 10-3 B1G) on Sunday. Despite losing in heartbreaking fashion to the Fighting Illini earlier this season, Collins and the squad are looking forward to the rematch.