WASHINGTON — If last Wednesday's buzzer-beating finish is now known in Northwestern circles as "The Play," well the Wildcats might need to also slap a trademark on "The Run."
Northwestern went on a monster 31-0 run during the first half Thursday that fueled an 83-61 victory over Rutgers in the Big Ten Tournament.
The win advanced the Cats to Friday night's quarterfinal game against the Maryland Terrapins.
Northwestern trailed by a mere three points after a couple early Rutgers 3s, but they sprinted away on that gigantic run, taking full advantage of the Scarlet Knights going scoreless for more than 11 minutes. During the run, the Cats got five 3-pointers — two from Vic Law plus one apiece from Scottie Lindsey, Nathan Taphorn and Sanjay Lumpkin — and a highlight-reel alley-oop dunk from Law on a throw from Lindsey.
Rutgers eventually snapped its epic scoreless drought with a Nigel Johnson 3. But by the end of that 31-0 run, Northwestern owned a 28-point lead, and that advantage was 18 at halftime.
The Cats shot a sparkling 53.3 percent over the opening 20 minutes, knocking down six 3s and getting double-digit scoring performances from both Law and Dererk Pardon. Northwestern also benefited from 10 Rutgers turnovers, which the Cats turned into 14 points.
Scoring wasn't quite as simple in the second half, and Northwestern watched its lead shrink to 15 and 16 at points, still extremely comfortable advantages. But after Rutgers reached within 16, the Cats rattled off seven straight — capped by a Bryant McIntosh 3 — to grab a 23-point lead. And the lead ballooned from there, too, getting as big as 28 during the final 20 minutes.
Northwestern shot a jaw-dropping 70 percent from the field in the second half and finished with a 60-percent mark on the game. The Cats hit nine 3s, had a big 33-19 rebounding edge, scored 16 points off turnovers and dominated in the points-in-the-paint category, 34-20.
After inconsistent shooting stretches from Law and Lindsey at the end of the regular season, the two produced in a big way Thursday. Law finished with 16 points on 5-for-6 shooting, while Lindsey had 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting. McIntosh and Pardon also finished in double figures with 13 points apiece.
If there was any thought that the Cats still needed to add more to their resume to clinch an NCAA tournament berth — something that seemed unnecessary considering lesser Big Ten squads like Illinois, Iowa and Indiana were among the discussion entering championship week — this dominant performance ought to be plenty, even if came against the Knights. An impressive win like this and any subsequent wins in this tournament could also boost the Cats' seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament.
Northwestern advanced to a big rematch with Maryland on Friday night. The Terps won by double digits when these teams squared off the day after Valentine's Day in Evanston.
Rutgers' Big Ten Tournament run lasted just two days, though that's a day longer than most thought the Knights would stay in Washington. Thursday's win over Ohio State remains a big one for Steve Pikiell's program, but up against a team headed for the NCAA tournament, Rutgers had no chance on Thursday night.