With the victory, the Cats earned the South Padre Island Invite title. Jared Swopshire earned Most Valuable Player honors, averaging 15 points and 7.5 rebounds in the two games.
It was an entertaining close to an otherwise sloppy performance from both teams.
NU had an opportunity to win in regulation, but Dave Sobolewski missed a three-pointer badly as time expired. Sobolewski redeemed himself – and then some – with two key shots in the extra period. First, he connected on a triple to break the tie. Then, he extended the lead to five with a deep two from the left wing.
Tyler Brown did everything possible to rally the Redbirds, scoring 36 points. He made one of his seven three-pointers with six seconds remaining, which brought the Redbirds within two.
After being fouled up 71-69, Drew Crawford left the door open by missing the second free throw. The Redbirds had four seconds to carry the ball up the floor, but never attempted a final shot.
Overall, NU lost the tempo battle, playing into ISU's quick style. The Redbirds, who led for most of the game, also struggled to stay in control and committed 20 turnovers of their own.
Both offenses finally woke up late in the game. Teams exchanged buckets in the waning minutes. Drew Crawford, who finished with 18 points of 6-of-20 shooting, knocked down a difficult leaner to give the Cats a 55-52 lead. But Brown responded to tie the game to force overtime.
Along with Sobolewski and Crawford, Mike Turner provided a major spark for the Cats, as he tallied 10 rebounds in 36 minutes. Freshman Alex Olah, the starting center, was scoreless in nine minutes of action.
This marked an impressive non-conference victory for NU. Although Illinois State is a lesser-known opponent, the Redbirds are projected to rank near the top of a competitive Missouri Valley Conference.
Despite a mediocre showing, the Cats earned an important early-season win. They will look to shore up their play heading into a much-hyped Tuesday matchup against Maryland at Welsh-Ryan Arena.