WASHINGTON — Northwestern's dream season marches on.
The Wildcats advanced to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament with a 72-64 win over Maryland in front of an extremely pro-Terps crowd Friday night at the Verizon Center.
Northwestern will take on Wisconsin on Saturday with a chance to advance to the conference-tournament championship game. It's the first trip to the semifinals for the Cats.
A night after using a monster 31-0 run to blow past Rutgers, Northwestern again went on some huge runs in its win over Maryland. The first half featured a 20-4 run, and the Cats went on a 20-2 run in the second half.
Northwestern was red hot shooting the ball over the final 20 minutes, shooting 58.3 percent from the field. The Cats shot a scorching 55.3 percent on the game.
After some quality opening minutes from Maryland, Northwestern busted off a 20-4 run to go from down eight to up 10. At one point the Cats made seven straight shots. They got two Vic Law 3-pointers and a triple from Scottie Lindsey during the stretch, also getting five straight points from Isiah Brown off a pair of Terps turnovers.
But Maryland answered Northwestern's big run with a big run of its own, outscoring the Cats 18-6 over the first half's final eight and a half minutes. Northwestern couldn't get on the board during that stretch, going without a basket over the final four and a half minutes before halftime. Bryant McIntosh and Sanjay Lumpkin didn't help things in that stretch, missing back-to-back front ends of 1-and-1 free-throw tries. And L.G. Gill's buzzer-beating bucket to end the first half gave the Terps a two-point lead at the break.
Both teams shot really well over the opening 20 minutes, Northwestern shooting 52.2 percent and Maryland shooting 51.9 percent. The Cats were 5-for-10 from 3-point range but missed four free throws. Though Northwestern turned the ball over nine times in the first half, three more than Maryland, the Cats scored 11 points off turnovers compared to nine by the Terps. Northwestern had the rebounding edge, but Maryland owned the paint scoring by a 20-6 margin.
The Terps stayed hot to start the second half, coming out of the locker room with eight straight points to take a double-digit lead. But the Cats responded with seven straight of their own, part of a 12-2 run to tie the game at 46 and a 20-2 run to take an eight-point lead with about seven minutes to play as the Terps went about six minutes without a point. A Maryland 3 stopped that drought, and Melo Trimble's layup cut the lead down to three with five and a half minutes to play. Law responded for Northwestern, hitting a jumper and getting a fast-break bucket off a Maryland turnover to push the Cats' lead to seven with three and a half minutes to go. That lead touched nine moments later on a Lindsey bucket and got to 13 after Lumpkin, Law and McIntosh connected on six straight free throws. The lead never shrunk below eight the remainder of the game.
Northwestern scored a whopping 25 points off 14 Maryland turnovers, won the rebounding battle and scored 11 second-chance points.
For the second straight Big Ten Tournament game, Law and Lindsey both led the Cats in scoring with 17 points apiece. The two guys struggling to find their shot at regular season's end have been huge in two conference-tournament games. McIntosh had 16 points Friday.
Trimble scored 20 for Maryland, with Kevin Huerter scoring 19.
Northwestern is again in uncharted territory. In the Big Ten Tournament semis for the first time, the Cats continued to add to their program-record win total, now at 23 on the season. A win over a Maryland team that spent much of the season in the top 25, Northwestern's NCAA tournament seed should get a nice boost. This will go down as one of the Cats' biggest resume-building wins of the season.