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Inspired Play Proves Northwestern Can Still Make Things Interesting This Year

by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)

Reggie Hearn doesn’t have time for moral victories.

With his senior season over halfway finished, time is running out for Northwestern’s star guard to make his mark on Wildcat history. That’s why Sunday’s closer-than-expected 67-59 loss to Indiana was nothing more than disappointment.

Never mind that he scored 22 points against his home state school and never mind NU’s valiant comeback, time is running out for anything but wins to matter.

“This is me, (Jared Swopshire) and (Alex Marcotullio’s) last chance to get to the tournament,” Hearn said, “and we think we can do it. We think that we have the guys to do it. So you’re going to see us give 100 percent every night.”

At this point, making the NCAA Tournament would be a minor miracle. However, this NU team certainly proved that it is capable of making things interesting. And more importantly, the Wildcats don’t have to play for next year, because there are certainly winnable games left on the 2011-2012 schedule.

After a 20-point home loss to Iowa last weekend, just about everyone was ready to write off this season. Nobody was sure where the scoring would come from and the team still seemed to be in a bit of disarray without a healthy Reggie Hearn and without Drew Crawford altogether.

Fast forward a week, and things don’t look so bleak. That’s due mainly in part to the seniors — Hearn and Jared Swopshire — who stepped up for a 14-point win against Illinois and nearly had enough to take down No. 2 Indiana in Evanston.

“They’ve become very comfortable now with one another after they lost Drew (Crawford) and that’s always going to take a little time when you lose a play like that, of that stature,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said.

Earlier in the Big Ten season, NU was forced to slow things down just to hang in games. The Wildcats did a little bit of that early on against Indiana, but they came out playing much more deliberately on offense in the second half and started to knock down shots. It looked like a completely different team than the offensively-challenged Wildcats who could do very little against Iowa.

“I think we’re starting to get some kind of identity — who we are, how we’re going to play, how we’re going to play to win,” coach Bill Carmody said. “That’s what every team has to do. It seems to me we’re making some steps — they may be incremental in some ways. I think we’re getting better.”

There are still a lot of concerns with this team. The centers must improve for NU to be a consistent winner — they had just one rebound between them — and the shots have to start falling more consistently. However, the play of Hearn and Swopshire in the past two games certainly lends hope that NU can at least make things interesting.

If NU wants to finally break through and win — not just make things interesting — then more players are going to have to step up and the freshmen are going to have to progress very quickly. But there’s no reason to give up on this team, and that’s evident after the last two performances.

Indiana is just better than Northwestern — plain and simple. For NU to win that game, it would have had to shoot the lights out. But luckily for NU, very few teams are as good as Indiana. If the Wildcats give that effort the rest of the season, they’re bound to come out on the winning end about as often as they lose.

Don’t call it a moral victory, because when the scoreboard shows a loss, it’s tough to call anything a victory. However, Sunday’s game proved that NU doesn’t have to wait until next year.

Reggie Hearn doesn’t have a next year, so he’s doing his best to make this one count. If the last two games are any indication, it may count a little more than NU fans had thought just one week ago.