Northwestern's March Madness hero says Wildcats are 'built' for tough moments after OT thriller

NEW YORK – The Northwestern Wildcats and Florida Atlantic Owls felt every emotion possible Friday afternoon at Barclays Center.

There was anger and frustration from both sides when they combined to shoot 25.9% from the floor in the first half. And they were both ecstatic when they each had a lead with under a minute to go in the first round of March Madness.

There were nerves when regulation ended to send the game into overtime, but those nerves didn’t affect the Wildcats.

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Brooks Barnhizer (13) of the Northwestern Wildcats brings the ball up court in the first half against the Florida Atlantic Owls in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Barclays Center March 22, 2024, in New York City.  (Sarh Stier/Getty Images)

Northwestern scored 19 points in overtime, the same amount they scored in the first half, making all but one shot (a free throw) to win 77-65.

“Our team — the toughness level and the heart of this team — is like nothing I’ve ever been a part of,” head coach Chris Collins said after the game.

Northwestern led by nine with 6:43 left. At that point, it had been the Wildcats’ largest lead of the day. But the Owls responded with a 13-2 run and had a lead with just seconds to go, shifting all momentum to the other side.

But after FAU’s Vlad Goldin missed a one-and-one opportunity, Brooks Barnhizer hit a layup with nine seconds left, and Northwestern never looked back.

Ryan Langborg (5) of the Northwestern Wildcats celebrates at the end of regulation against the Florida Atlantic Owls in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Barclays Center March 22, 2024, in New York City.  (Elsa/Getty Images)

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Collins said he was “proud” of the way his guys handled that momentum shift.

“We just said when we got to overtime, ‘We’re gonna find a way, because that’s what we’ve done all year.’ And it’s a real credit for their heart, their toughness, to just dig down and win a game.”l

“It’s our job as leaders to make sure that going into that overtime period we’re telling each other we’re built for these moments,” Barnhizer said. “We’ve put our bodies through stuff to prepare us for this situation. We just have the utmost confidence.

“Once I laid the ball in at the end of regulation, everyone in the huddle was saying, ‘We’re winning. There’s no other option but winning.’ We just had so much confidence coming out into the OT period, and I’m just so proud of everybody who’s here today and played a role.”

Brooks Barnhizer (13) of the Northwestern Wildcats is helped by teammates after diving in to the scorers’ table in the first half against the Florida Atlantic Owls in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Barclays Center March 22, 2024, in New York City.  (Elsa/Getty Images)

At the time of publishing, No. 1 UConn, the defending national champion, led No. 16 Stetson 52-19, so it’s likely the Wildcats will face the Huskies Sunday.

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