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Staring defeat in the eyes, Bryant McIntosh wouldn’t let Northwestern lose

The junior captain has grown into the role of the team’s closer.

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

EVANSTON, IL — Bryant McIntosh knew.

When he let the ball go, the junior captain knew there was a lot riding on this shot.

He knew there was a lot riding on this game.

He knew it was going to be a swish.

“As soon as I gathered the ball, I knew I’d hit it,” McIntosh said. “First you wanna celebrate, but there’s still a lot of time left. (We were) just really resilient, you gotta be really proud of the guys. We got stops the last eight minutes that we had to.”

To say McIntosh’s shot—a pull-up, go-ahead three-pointer with 58 seconds play—was the sole reason Northwestern gutted out a 69-65 win over Rutgers would be incorrect.

Two Gavin Skelly threes, a Vic Law steal and a late Isiah Brown defensive rebound were key plays. Two first half threes from Nathan Taphorn helped Northwestern build a lead going into halftime. But the shot that gave Northwestern the lead, completing the Wildcats’ late comeback, was a clutch triple from a player who probably represents Northwestern’s basketball transformation better than any other.

McIntosh has seen Northwestern lose games like this before.

“In that situation in the past we would fold. We wouldn’t win a game like this in the past,” he said. “But we buckled down and got some stops. We’re older, more mature. We just believe we should win.”

And for a while, it appeared that Saturday night would be no different.

With under seven minutes to play and Rutgers leading 54-48, the Northwestern offense appeared completely stagnant. NU had scored just 9 points in over 13 minutes to start the second half. On the other end of the floor, Rutgers guards Corey Sanders and Nigel Johnson were beating and breaking down the Wildcats’ defense on the perimeter and controlling the game; the duo would go on to combine for 33 points.

It seemed like the Wildcats would stumble across the finish line and drop a very winnable game in the worst possible time to do so. The loose balls, the contested rebounds and the rolls around the rim were going in favor of the Scarlet Knights.

The Northwestern faithful had seen this script before. A loss to Rutgers would easily have been Northwestern’s worst of the season, and would’ve stuck out as a potentially devastating black mark on its resume at the end of the year.

“We couldn't throw it in the ocean,” head Coach Chris Collins said. “We just kept saying, ‘let’s find a way.’”

On this night, the way was leaning on the battle-tested McIntosh, especially late.

It wasn’t just the game-winning three that made McIntosh’s night so important. He also hit three late free throws, and 14 of his 18 points came in the second half. McIntosh finished with six assists, and posted an efficient 6-of-11 shooting performance, despite having to operate for large periods of time with ball in his hands.

With its closer running the show, Northwestern didn’t wilt, rattling off 17 points in 5:27 to survive Round 14 of the Big Ten schedule and pick up its ninth conference win for the first time since 1933.

Although things went his way tonight, Bryant McIntosh knows that won’t always be the case. Against Illinois, his late turnovers doomed Northwestern to a tough loss. However, that doesn’t faze him at this point in his career.

“It’s tough because you can be the hero one day, and the scapegoat the very next day. That’s something I had to take a little time to understand. Now I’m comfortable with that. Recently I’ve been a little bit of the hero,” McIntosh said on Tuesday.

Yes, he has struggled to shoot the ball for much of this season. But more often than not, McIntosh has come through when the Wildcats have needed their leader most.

BMac was the hero on Saturday, adding another chapter to the iconic imprint he’ll eventually leave on Northwestern basketball.