After a topsy-turvy season of soul-crushing defeats and triumphant victories, the dream of a magical run to the NCAA Tournament ended for the 10th-seeded Northwestern Wildcats (15-17, 6-12), as they fell to a desperate seventh-seeded Indiana Hoosiers team (20-12, 9-9) in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament by a score of 71-56 at the United Center in Chicago.
The ‘Cats were manhandled in the paint, and that was really what made the difference for the Hoosiers throughout the game, as they outrebounded NU 42-25.
“Their physicality knocked us back,” coach Chris Collins said. “The proof is in the pudding with 20 offensive rebounds and 30 points in the paint.”
An early 16-0 run by IU put the Hoosiers up 24-6 and left Northwestern on its heels early, as the ‘Cats shot just 33.3 percent in the first half and were unable to corral the vast majority of their misses. The Hoosiers also grabbed an 11-0 first-half edge in second chance points (a battle they won 20-3 overall), and headed to the locker room up 36-22.
“I think physicality is one thing, as a whole, that we can do better at,” freshman guard Bryant McIntosh said. “We can get in the weight room and get prepared for this next season. This game kind of showed us where we need to go.”
In the second half, the ‘Cats mounted a few runs to cut the lead to 11 with scalding 54.5 percent shooting, but the Hoosiers always found ways to respond, continuing to win the battle on the offensive glass and creating second-chance opportunities for themselves that allowed them to keep NU at arm’s length and ice the game away.
By virtue of its 15-17 record, it’s likely that Northwestern would be offered a bid to the College Basketball Invitational, a tournament just a notch below the NIT, but Collins said he and his coaching staff have elected not to continue playing even if the team were to get a bid.
“I just feel like it’s time to move forward,” Collins said. “We’ve got a lot of banged up guys. I felt like where we are, based on the pulse of our team physically and emotionally, it’s time to shut it down. I think they all support me in that decision.”
Collins said that although he is disappointed with how the season ended, he is pleased with the improvement Northwestern made this year after a 14-19 mark last year, and that he’s excited for the next year’s team, which will be bolstered by yet another historically stout recruiting class and will have the majority of its core players returning.
“I thought we got better as a team and I thought we got better individually. A lot of guys showed tremendous growth,” Collins said. “If everybody doesn’t see that the arrow is moving up with our program, then I don’t know what they’re watching.”
(Thnks Fr Th Mmrs, JerShon Cobb, Dave Sobolewski and Jeremiah Kreisberg. We will remember you, for centuries.)