EVANSTON, Ill. -- Even with an 18-point first half lead, Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins knew it wasn't likely to last on Friday against Northwestern.
The Wildcats indeed stormed back late in first half and forced two ties late in regulation. But the lead proved elusive as the Cardinal prevailed 70-68 before 6,718 fans at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
"They never let up," Dawkins said. "They kept the pressure on, they kept scrapping and of course, they clawed back into the game. That was no surprise. I told my team the entire time to expect a great game."
The Wildcats stayed in the hunt through the entire second half and tied the game twice, the last at 67-67 on Tre Demps' 3 pointer with 1:44 showing. But Stanford's Aaron Bright replied with his own 3-pointer for a 70-67 edge with 90 seconds left.
Trailing 70-68, Northwestern had a chance to tie the game after a Stanford turnover but lost the ball out of bounds after a missed shot with 2.9 seconds remaining.
"We didn't panic, we kept our poise," said forward Josh Huestis, who collected 18 points and 12 rebounds. "Northwestern would go on runs but we never let them back in the game."
The Cardinal (8-4) played a more consistent second half after watching an 18-point first-half lead nearly vanish before opening a 35-31 halftime lead.
Robbie Lemons and John Gage added 12 points apiece for the Cardinal.
Reggie Hearn paced the Wildcats (8-4) with 18 points. Alex Olah had 16, Demps scored 12 and Alex Marcotullio added 10 as Northwestern dropped its second in three games.
Hearn left the game with 15:48 to play with a possible right ankle injury following a layup. He did not return and his status for Sunday's game with Brown was not immediately known.
Wildcats coach Bill Carmody was disappointed with the loss, but not the effort.
"I thought the whole team played pretty hard and I was really happy with the way they came back and fought in there," he said.
Friday's first half was a tale of two surges.
Stanford broke a 10-10 tie with a barrage of 3-pointers on the way to a 22-12 lead by the 12:53 mark. Reserve Robbie Lemons hit three in the 12-2 run while Josh Huestis hit another.
Stanford extended the run to 18-2 for a 28-12 lead before Hearn finally ended the Wildcats' dry spell with a jumper with 9:02 left.
The lead reached 32-14 on Dwight Powell's score at 7:04 but Cardinal then failed to score again for nearly the rest of the half.
Northwestern took advantage of tips, turnovers and missed Stanford shots while scoring 17 unanswered points -- including seven from Hearn -- to trim the deficit to 32-31 with less than 2 minutes to play.
"I think for the last 28 minutes, 30 minutes, the offense was pretty good," Carmody said. "And I thought the defense was good. We had a few missed assignments here and there, but it's stuff we can get better at."
Cardinal forward John Gage drilled a 3-pointer with 5 seconds showing for a 35-31 Stanford halftime lead.
Notes: Friday's game was a homecoming of sorts for Cardinal sophomore guard Chasson Randle, who is from Rock Island, Ill., 175 miles west of Evanston. Randle, a sophomore, was averaging 14.1 in 11 previous starts. Chasson led Rock Island High School to a 2011 Class 3A state championship and earned All-State first team and Illinois Mr. Basketball honors. ... Friday's game ended a two-game Cardinal road trip, its first of the season. Stanford dropped an 88-79 decision at No. 25 North Carolina State on Tuesday. ... Northwestern played its first game without No. 2 scorer Drew Crawford, beating Texas State 74-68 on Monday. Crawford, who averaged 13.5 points over 10 games, is out for the season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. ... Another Illinois native on the Stanford roster is sophomore guard Jack Ryan, who is redshirting this season. He played at nearby Glenbrook South High School. ... The Northwestern game is Stanford's last lengthy road trip. The Cardinal's longest scheduled road trips after this are to Colorado and Utah in late January. ... Stanford is idle until Dec. 29 when it hosts Lafayette in a non-conference finale. The Cardinal opens Pac-12 play on Jan. 3 at USC. ... Northwestern entertains Brown on Sunday and kicks off Big Ten action on Jan. 3 at home against Michigan.