Ouch. That one hurt. Perhaps I’m reaching, but it sure looked like we were tight in the first half (as was Purdue) in yesterday’s spirit-crushing loss. The ‘Cats uncharacteristically were throwing the ball away, making bad decisions once they got caught on offense on the baseline and as many of you pointed out, seemingly didn’t care too much about boxing out. Both teams shot miserably in the first half and Purdue went one stretch missing 12 consecutive shots, yet Northwestern could not capitalize on the window opening to build a lead. You got the sense it would just be a matter of time before Purdue found its rhythm, and indeed both teams did in an explosive second half.
There were moments when I thought we were on the ropes as Purdue started cranking from 3-point, land, in particular, Byrd, who has the same spot on the floor that he loves. Yet, Northwestern would respond – a huge Shurna three or even a nasty Crawford dunk – and the Boilers couldn’t put us away. It was after the Crawford dunk that I thought “here we go”. We had seemed to find the fight and the hunger factor that was missing for most of the first 30 minutes. I really was on the edge of my couch in full “believe” mode. The fact that NU and Purdue are virtually the same team on the NCAA selection line was just weighing over me. A sweep by Purdue and it could cost us as the last team out if it would come down to the two of us. I was willing John to keep on his takeover the game mode, which was clearly in effect. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Northwestern player score 30 points while having single digits so late in to a game. He was in that “give me the rock” mode we’ve been wanting him to have and it became our team, our season, on one guy’s shoulders.
Purdue deserves a ton of credit. They play defense as hard and as well as any major BCS team – especially at home. Meanwhile, Painter deserves credit for finding the vulnerable spot in our zone as they continued to kill us from 15-feet by slicing through the middle and finding either a runner or a kick-out to their three-point shooters. Yet, the game seemed to have this weird flow, where you felt we were going to get buried and then just like that you thought we were seizing momentum and were going to go on a run. Neither really happened.
The game was obviously much closer than the 10-point final margin of victory indicated. We gave up 87 points which is inexcusable for many reasons, none moreso than the fact that the Boilermakers scored well over 50 points in the second half. Bottom-line in this game is that we could not get a stop, let alone consecutive defensive stops in the second half. You hate to slip in to that fatalistic zone that comes with being a Northwestern hoops fan, a point you’re reminded of by Gus Johnson every other trip up the floor (alternating between “the Wildcats haven’t had four consecutive conference wins since 1967” and “Northwestern is trying to secure an important win that would help their case for their first EVER appearance in the NCAA Tournament”). However, that’s where I was with 10 minutes to go in the game and NU playing catch-up. I was reduced to speaking outloud and muttering such insanity as “just once, please let us win this and get to the dance”.
In the end, it was a reversion back to the outside of the Tournament looking in as we’re now 5-7 in conference play with six games to go and likely requiring a 4-2 finish down the stretch. Let’s face it, we’re entering highly improbable territory with possibly the toughest road venue in the B1g, Bloomington, staring us in the face on Wednesday. Let’s play the odds and assume we lose that game. It would take a near miraculous finish to pull out a 9-9 mark and breaking the streak.
I hate this feeling. I can’t stand it. I feel like a petulant child who wants to kick and scream to get his way. It’s also riding the rail of the entire program, as our run towards the bottom of the middle tier of the Big Ten pack seems to be hitting us like the proverbial glass ceiling under Coach Carmody. Breaking through to the NCAA Tournament, in my opinion is a quasi-version of program rocket fuel that could help us break through with that one additional recruit we might net as a result. The not making it to the Tournament is a presumed direction change for the program and the inevitable drop back to the basement in the post-Shurna world. When you’re nearing half a century of breaking through, you then resign yourself to thinking, what’s the downside of a dip in the program to try and assemble a
resurgence? Well, there is a big assumption in that line of thinking. It is one that assumes we’ve landed the “right” guy for the head coaching position.
Ultimately, that’s why this season and last season are so manic. It’s become more than making it or not making it. It’s become the inevitability of needing to go in to rebuild mode on a program that has been light on the build. We’ve gotten to the point where we indeed compete night in and night out and there isn’t a team in the Big Ten were not capable of beating. That’s a good thing. Getting sucked in to believing, “no wait, this REALLY could be the year” to then lose is just the toying of emotions that we discussed as being so mentally unhealthy. No need to worry though ‘Cats fans, NU has us right where they want us – back off the believing bandwagon – just so they can pull off another shocker to bring us back.
Congratulations to Northwestern alum and Olympic swimmer, Matt Grevers, who made waves Saturday by not only winning at the Missouri Grand Prix, but then using the winner’s podium as his pulpit to propose to his now fiancee, Annie Chandler. You can read all about it here in SI.