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Bryant McIntosh battles through illness, shooting slump

The freshman point guard still has plenty of confidence ahead of the Big Ten Tournament

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, Bryant McIntosh made the Big Ten All-Freshman team. He’s been remarkably steady for a freshman on a team that fell out of contention early in conference play. He leads the team in minutes per game and assists per game, and he is third in points per game. Perhaps even more impressively, he has not missed a game.

But in the last five games, there’s been something off for the freshman point guard. In the first 13 games of Big Ten play, he only failed to reach double digits in the scoring column twice. In the last five games, he has failed to do so four times. And while the team has done decently well (3-2) over that span, McIntosh certainly hasn’t looked himself.

Perhaps it’s the lingering effects of an illness that McIntosh had leading up to the Michigan game. After all, it’s not like playing basketball in front of thousands of screaming fans helps someone heal from a serious illness. And after all, it’s hard to completely discount his five-point performance in Northwestern’s dominant win against Penn State, as he handed out eight assists. And even though he only scored four points in the next game, a win over Indiana, he added nine assists and perhaps more impressively six rebounds.

"I had migraines and a sinus infection I was dealing with at the same time," McIntosh said.

He spent two days in bed, which not only drained him physically, but threw off his rhythm and his shot, something he has had to regain a feel for over the past week or so. The freshman guard said antibiotics have helped him get his energy back, and he felt he had a solid practice on Monday.

Winning helps cover up poor performances. When Northwestern wins despite McIntosh struggling with his shot, people point to his outstanding assist numbers. But that’s what made the regular-season ending blowout loss to Iowa particularly concerning. McIntosh, a 42 percent shooter on the year, went 2-for-9 from the field. Over the five game stretch, he’s just 11-for-39 from the field, a not-so-pretty 28.2 percent.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong. All players go through slumps. McIntosh has exceeded expectations this year, and his future remains very bright. His recent shooting struggles are likely a combination of fatigue—he has played over 1,000 minutes this year—illness, and defenses focusing more on him. For Northwestern to beat Indiana on Thursday, McIntosh’s play will be key. Can Northwestern beat the Hoosiers again with McIntosh only scoring four points? Probably not, unless Alex Olah (17 points and 10 rebounds) and Tre Demps (23 points) play as well as they did.

But if there’s anything we’ve learned this year, it’s that McIntosh is undeterred when things don’t go his way. When Northwestern snapped its 10-game losing streak, it was McIntosh putting up 18 points against Iowa. Don’t be surprised to see him snap another bad streak, this one personal rather than team-oriented Thursday night. What better way to do so in his first Big Ten Tournament game against his home state team?

"I feel good," he said. "My body feels really good and my energy is up. It’s much better than it’s been in the past week, so I’m excited. I’m ready to go for this Big Ten Tournament."

For Wildcats fans, those are surely some welcome words.