On a night that saw Stanford race out to an 18-point lead thanks to the hot shooting of junior Robbie Lemons only to give it all away in the second half, a late 3-pointer by a struggling Aaron Bright capped a much-needed road win for the Cardinal over Northwestern.
Bright’s jumper gave Stanford (8-4, 0-0 Pac-12) the only lead it would not relinquish on Friday in its 70-68 victory against the Wildcats (8-4, 0-0 Big Ten), as the one-time starter made the most of his 30 minutes off the bench on the night.
“That’s what you practice on as a little kid,” Bright told the Associated Press. “You visualize you’re in the other team’s arena and you make the last shot.”
Forward Josh Huestis led all scoring with 18 points as part of his first double-double of the season, and the former walk-on guard Lemons shot 4-of-8 from behind the arc to contribute 12 points in his first career start. Their fellow junior, forward John Gage, chipped in 12 of his own in 15 efficient minutes.
Stanford had one of its best shooting nights of the season, especially from behind the arc, where it went 11-for-24. Sixteen of the Cardinal’s 25 baskets were assisted, five more than its season average of 11.
“We’ve been involved in games like that, where teams have kept us on the ropes, have stormed back and we folded,” Huestis told the Associated Press. “This game was different. We didn’t panic. We kept our poise. They’d go on runs, but they never got the lead. You can attribute that to our maturity.”
It was a signature victory for a Cardinal team that came in without a victory against a major-conference foe, having fallen in winnable games against No. 13 Missouri, Minnesota and No. 25 NC State.
Stanford established itself quickly at Welsh-Ryan Arena, going on a 22-4 first-half run to snag a 32-14 lead. The Cardinal shot 6-of-7 from the perimeter — with Lemons making three of those jumpers — in the early going.
But that 18-point advantage had dried up by halftime, with the Cardinal going scoreless for 6 minutes and 59 seconds while the Wildcats narrowed the deficit to one with a 17-0 scoring run. A Gage 3-pointer in the final seconds of the opening period ended Stanford’s drought and gave the Cardinal a four-point lead heading into the locker room.
In a back-and-forth second half, Stanford never extended its advantage to double figures and Northwestern never took the lead.
Seconds after Wildcat guard Tre Demps sank a 3-pointer to tie the game with 1:50 remaining, Bright took a pass from freshman Rosco Allen and hoisted a long jumper to put the Cardinal ahead 70-67.
“I kind of visualized the shot in my head before I got open,” Bright said. “It felt good.”
Northwestern made a free throw on its next possession and got the ball back, down only two points and with 26 seconds remaining, after an errant pass by junior Dwight Powell. Demps then missed a floater, and Stanford redshirt senior Andy Brown came up with the rebound in the corner. Falling out of bounds, Brown threw the ball off Wildcat guard Dave Sobolewski to give the Cardinal possession with three seconds left.
Powell caught a lob on the ensuing inbounds and ran upcourt to seal the victory, Stanford’s first win by just one bucket since an unexpected, 68-65 nailbiter against Utah on Jan. 12.
The Cardinal has a week off before the final game of its nonconference season, a Dec. 29 showdown against Lafayette at Maples Pavilion. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m.