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Even in a loss, Vic Law impresses as a player Northwestern is relying on

Law keeps proving to be this team’s most valuable player.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Butler Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS — We’ll never really know what would have happened in 2015-16 if Vic Law hadn’t missed the entire season with a shoulder injury that robbed the team of its best wing scorer.

Northwestern went 20-12 last season, finishing 8-10 in conference play, but the Wildcats fell to Michigan (in overtime) in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament and failed to make any postseason tournaments.

It was a season, like most in Northwestern basketball history, that started with promise, had some high points in the middle and then ended in abject disappointment. Vic Law was brought to Northwestern to help end that vicious cycle.

Through three games this season, however, it’s clear that Law—the highest-rated recruit in Northwestern history—would have made an enormous difference in that campaign and could have even helped bring the Wildcats to the long-desired promised land.

He continued to prove that argument on Wednesday night against Butler in Northwestern’s 70-68 loss at Hinkle Fieldhouse, scoring 17 points on six-of-eight shooting (five-of-six from three). While Bryant McIntosh struggled at points and Scottie Lindsey’s shot was off, Law was the consistent offensive force for Northwestern.

“He has always been a great shooter,” Chris Collins said after the game. “That’s one of the more underrated parts of his game.”

It was an incredibly efficient performance from Law, who has been on fire through three games. He’s 20-of-31 from the field and 11-of-14 beyond the arc.

It’s still early and those numbers will regress to the mean as the season progresses. But, for a guy who missed over a year with a shoulder injury, it’s notable nonetheless. And without that kind of production, the Wildcats have no business even competing with Butler.

While Law denied that his shooting form is different than what it was during his freshman year, it’s clear something has changed with the South Holland, Ill. native. He surely has developed physically, but his maturation goes beyond a mechanical improvement or a bulking up in the gym.

Simply, he’s tired of losing, as are the rest of the Wildcats. Tough, close losses—like the last-second defeat on Wednesday—have characterized the Northwestern basketball experience for quite some time.

“I’m tired of moral victories,” Law said. “‘It’s the same Northwestern that you guys are accustomed to writing about. ‘They’re close, those are the Wildcats, whatever.’ I think we’re in it to win.”

Northwestern needs the Vic Law that showed up at Hinkle to continue to show up the rest of the season, especially if Aaron Falzon is going to continue to struggle with injury. Collins said his staff is working to get Falzon ready for each game, but that it just hasn’t worked out in the sophomore’s favor so far.

If the Wildcats are going to get over that always-evasive NCAA Tournament hump this season or in the near-future, they’ll need to win games like this one. As Law and Collins mentioned postgame, they didn’t get the defensive stop they needed late—and Butler did.

Even given his stellar offensive game, Law was a bit down on himself afterwards because of Kelan Martin’s big-time performance. The junior scored 22 points and consistently had his way with the Northwestern defense.

As important as Law’s offensive contributions are, the Wildcats need him to lock down the opposition’s best player on the other end of the floor, too.

If he doesn’t, things will get more challenging for the rest of the Wildcats, and results like Wednesday’s will become the norm.