Milwaukee was led by Tony Meier's 19 points, while Kaylon Williams and Anthony Hill each had 11 points. The Panthers shot 45.1 % from the field, but that was not enough to beat the Wildcats.
"(Milwaukee) never stopped fighting," said NU head coach Bill Carmody. "It's a very well-coached team. They played hard. We made some shot when it counted."
Northwestern took control of the game midway through the first half. At the 12:47 mark of the first half, Milwaukee took a 16-13 lead after Anthony Hill finished a three-point play. After that, the Wildcats took charge. Alex Marcotullio stole a pass, leading to a Juice Thompson layup, which started an 18-0 Northwestern run over the span of 8:21.
The key to shutting down Milwaukee's offense was Northwestern defensive adjustments. Bill Carmody brought his team out in a 1-3-1 defense, which contained the Panthers throughout their scoreless drought.
"That changed the complexion of the game a lot," said Carmody.
After taking command, the Wildcats would never relinquish that lead, but things got tight late in the game. Milwaukee caught fire from beyond the arc, and cut their deficit to six with five minutes remaining. But Juice Thompson and John Shurna answered the call, as each hit a three-pointer, which brought the Wildcat lead back to double-digits, and sealed the win.
The key for the Wildcats was John Shurna, who finished with his highest scoring output since his ankle injury on December 23rd. Shurna refused to blame the injury for his offensive struggles, but instead, credited his teammates for his success.
"I think my teammates are really encouraging me to shoot and picked me up," said Shurna. "I did better in the Ohio State game and this game too."
The win is a monumental one for the program's history. It is just the Wildcats' third postseason win, and the first in 17 years.
For this group of players, it's their first postseason win. After bowing out early in their previous two postseason appearances, the players are pleased to be advancing on to the second-round.
"I think it's awesome for us," said junior center Luka Mirkovic. "It's a really great group of guys. The deserve it. We've had two tough losses in the postseason, so it's definitely nice to get a win under our belt."
And the win was especially enduring for the Northwestern players, who are in the midst of a long, draining week—finals week.
The exams took away from player's regular afternoon shoot-around time, and naturally, late-night studying kept players off their normal sleep schedule, but it wasn't enough to slow down the team in their win.
Next up for the Wildcats is Boston College, the top-seeded team in their region, who advanced on to the second-round of the NIT with a win over McNeese State. The Golden Eagles were a "bubble team" late in the season, but just missed qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. Now, the Wildcats will travel to Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts to take on their next opponent.
Tipoff for that game is set for 10 am. CT., the earliest start time that the Wildcats have played this season.
John Shurna wasn't able to watch Boston College's win over McNeese St., thanks to studying for finals. However, Shurna will have to be awake and ready for Saturday's early-morning start.
When asked if he's a morning person, Shurna said, "I guess I have to be, right."