Northwestern, Ryan Langborg outlast FAU in overtime NCAA Tournament thriller

Two of the most experienced teams in college basketball went at it in Brooklyn in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Northwestern, in a historic season, had its graduate transfer come up in the biggest moment.

The Wildcats' defense stepped up on the biggest stage, but the Cats' offense woke up at the perfect time thanks to Ryan Langborg in a 77-65 win in an overtime classic against Florida Atlantic in the NCAA Tournament.

An inadvertent whistle resulted in a jump ball that gave FAU the ball with 27 seconds remaining. Northwestern got a stop and sent the game to overtime. That set up Langborg's 12 points in overtime.

That was a stark contrast to the beginning of the game.

All the way in Brooklyn, Northwestern found a way to keep the Chicagoland cold with them. Florida Atlantic felt it, too.

FAU led 20-19 at halftime in a first half that was not kind to anyone looking for an offensive showcase.

Both teams were freezing cold. FAU struggled to string baskets together outside one stretch in the middle part of the first half. Northwestern struggled throughout the first half, period.

Northwestern was 7 of 33 on field goals in the first half. Five minutes into the second half, Northwestern was 7 of 9 on its second half field goals.

Ryan Langborg, Boo Buie and Brooks Barnhizer combined to warm up Northwestern as a whole. Chris Collins trusted the players that carried him to the Big Dance, and it paid off.

Langborg, who had March heroics last season for Princeton, created for Northwestern with the ball in his hands in late-shot clock situations. The experience, something FAU was lauded for all season as it aimed to repeat a Final Four run, was materializing for the Wildcats.

Friday was a mismatch on paper for Northwestern, too. FAU boasted great guard play, whereas Northwestern struggled to guard the perimeter well all year. Johnell Davis made NU pay in the first half, but the Wildcats' defense stepped behind Barnhizer, Blake Smith and Buie.

Case in point: NU forced FAU into a season-high 21 turnovers.

FAU clawed back down eight to take a 58-56 lead with a minute left, but Barnhizer's layup tied the game and his block on Davis forced overtime.

That set up the overtime period. Northwestern's offense lit up FAU.

Here's what to know about the game. 

Why Northwestern won

The thought ahead of Friday was that the Northwestern-FAU winner would come down to whichever team had the better guard play for 40 minutes.

The experience was there. It materialized for Northwestern in Brooklyn.

Buie, Barnhizer and Langborg trumped Davis, Alijah Martin and Nicholas Boyd at the Barclays Center.

The Owls didn't lie down, though. Even when the Wildcats took a hold on the game in the second half. That was thanks to FAU center Vladislav Goldin

Northwestern led 54-45 after the under-eight timeout, but FAU rallied to cut that lead to four at 54-50 with 5:19 left. 

Goldin made Northwestern pay for its lack of size, ripping into Northwestern into the post. That tied the game at 56-56 with a minute left, when Davis gave FAU a 58-56 lead on a runner.

Northwestern had no answer for Goldin, which opened the door for FAU to claw back.

But, FAU couldn't win it. That opened up the gate for NU.

Barnhizer forced overtime with a layup. Langborg gave NU a big lead. Buie closed the win. The experienced guard trio lifted the 'Cats.

It was over when…

Ryan Langborg put the team on his back. 

He nailed a 3-pointer with 1:40 left in the game to put Northwestern up 11 for his 10th point in overtime.

FAU couldn't convert on the other end. That made it a free throw game for Northwestern.

The Wildcats, on the other end, converted their free throws.

Who starred

When it mattered most, Chris Collins trusted his guards.

Buie, the unanimous Big Ten first-team player and Northwestern's All-American point guard, had 22 points. He performed at a high level on both ends of the court as he returned to his home state.

Langborg, though, was a major catalyst. When he wasn't scoring, he passed into stellar looks for his teammates. Langborg finished the game with three assists, most of which came in the second half. As a team, NU finished the game with 20 assists.

Langborg led all NU players with 27 points. He willed Northwestern with his scoring in overtime. His three with 1:40 left put NU up 11.

Barnhizer also finished in double figures as a scorer, and tied for the team lead in rebounds. His layup at the end of regulation forced OT.

What it means

Northwestern moves on.

That's three NCAA Tournaments with Chris Collins at the helm for NU, and every tournament NU has advanced out of the first round.

The show goes on for the Wildcats.


COLUMN: Boo Buie is the best Northwestern basketball player of all-time - and it'll stay that way forever

Given the circumstances, how Boo Buie has affected the Wildcats program and for the amount of time he's done so, means he's the greatest Wildcat of all-time.