On a veteran team, Bryant McIntosh is the veteran, a sage and calming presence. He's a quiet leader, but a leader nonetheless. Having missed the previous two games with an arm injury, coming back for his senior night was important to him. He couldn't lift his arm in the days preceding the game against Wisconsin, and he didn't even know if he could shoot a basketball heading into the game. He played, and in Bryant McIntosh fashion, he fought.
Between the lines, he was himself. He probed the perimeter. He flipped in the floaters he's spent years perfecting — at this point, it's muscle-memory. He clapped his hands in frustration after every missed shot or turnover; he's harder on himself than anyone else, maybe even to a fault. He expects greatness. He's delivered it many times.
He jumped up-and-down after dropping precise, ready-made assists, of which he has dished out more than any other player to ever don a Northwestern jersey.
Regardless of Thursday's outcome, a 70-64 loss to the Badgers, McIntosh is a winner. And a worker. That's why he shoots with his dad late at night to clear his head when he's struggling. That's why his standards are higher than anybody else's. That's why Northwestern made the NCAA Tournament, and that's why he'll be sorely missed.
McIntosh will miss Northwestern just as much. Taking his home floor — though regrettably, not the home floor he would’ve preferred — for what will almost certainly be the final time, he did a lot of thinking in the hours leading up to the game.
"Just trying to think about all the people that have made this so special,” McIntosh said, "like our athletic director, our associate athletic director, our coaches, all the past players and the people that have helped mold me into the person that I am. It was just a lot of reflection throughout the day."
When Chris Collins subbed McIntosh out for the final time with just seconds remaining on the clock, the two shared a hug neither will ever forget, and Collins spoke into the senior's ear, offering a message of love, and pride, and gratitude. McIntosh, who embodies everything about what the program has been the last few years, wrapped his bottom lip above his top, trying as hard as possible to hold himself together. He slowly made his way down the bench, fighting back tears as best he could. They flowed anyway.
And just like that, a legend stepped off his home floor for the final time.
Scottie Lindsey is wired to score. His athletic gifts and tirelessly-built shooting stroke have allowed him to spend four years effortlessly tossing up jumpers from anywhere on the floor. In his last-ever home game, a lot of those shots went in. He scored a game-high 26 points on 16 shots.
Like he often did on the team that went to the Tournament, Lindsey lifted a stagnant offense to keep his team in the game early on. When the offense needed him to score, Lindsey answered the bell. He created his own shot. He fought for a putback after a miss. He got to the free throw line.
Lindsey barked out orders to his teammates, assuming the leadership role he's taken on as a senior. He's come a long way since the days of benchings and defensive lapses, and even longer since, as a skinny kid from Fenwick High School, a broken leg put his recruiting prospects in doubt.
Lindsey said in the postgame press conference he's learned how to speak up in times of adversity on the floor and how to keep pushing when things go wrong.
He will be remembered as a remarkably talented scorer, whose 20 straight double-digit efforts to open his junior season put Northwestern in a position to make history and whose return from mono helped seal the deal. There’s no March Madness without Scottie Lindsey.
For that reason alone, he’ll go down as one of the most important players in program history.
Gavin Skelly is Northwestern's energizer bunny. His dance-moves, his GIF-worthy celebrations and his positive energy make him one of the Wildcats' best personalities.
Like his classmates, his role has burgeoned in Evanston. His shooting and athleticism made him a key contributor, both off the bench and as a starter in his career.
He hasn't been the stalwart that McIntosh or Lindsey have been, but that's fine. The Westlake, Ohio native has embraced his role, whatever it's been. He's played within himself, and he's had a ton of fun.
Skelly's infectious enthusiasm rarely switches off, and he's known to crack a joke or two in postgame press conferences. In tough losses or inconsistent shooting spells or moments when everything seems like it's going wrong, Skelly's smile doesn't waver. And that's awesome.
He, too, was a crucial part of the team that broke the rock. If his future grandkids ever need proof, all he’ll have to do is show them One Shining Moment.
Vic Law wasn’t honored during Northwestern's senior night festivities. He didn’t play in the game either, watching from the sidelines with a boot on his right foot.
Though absent Thursday, Law is absolutely a member of this senior class. It was his Fourth of July phone call in 2013 that started this whole ride, after all.
Law has not played his final home game for Northwestern. He will be the elder statesman next year, the final on-court link between Chris Collins' first recruiting class and the future of the program.
He is Northwestern's best athlete, best defender and quite possibly its best player. That he couldn’t join his classmates to go to battle on their home floor one last time is truly unfortunate.
"I gotta tell you," Collins said after the game, "it was killing him, it was killing him man, not to be out there, because he came in with those guys."
In an Instagram post, Law summed up the tight bond he, McIntosh, Skelly and Lindsey have formed. "Today has been a culmination of this tight brotherhood that we’ve built," the post read.
That brotherhood built the best team in school history.
The finite nature of college athletics, and college, is apparent every year around the country, whether it be at senior nights, graduations or anything of the like. People say all the time that college is the best time of your life, so it's emotional when it ends.
The culmination of something so formative in a person's life is one of the few fleeting moments where deep feelings of happiness and sadness coexist. You're sad that something that you've put endless hours into is over, but happy that you experienced the moments, memories and most importantly, the people.
At the postgame press conference, Chris Collins began to break down. His voice whimpered just a bit, and his eyes welled with tears. His first recruiting class had come to a moment of finality. Hours and hours of work went into this process, resulting in unbelievable joys and deflating struggles. All of that created an indelible love, which was the main idea Collins stressed to each of his seniors as they walked off the floor one last time.
"I told them yesterday, what really hurts me is the disappointment that we aren't where we wanna be as a team this year,” Collins said. “But I want those guys to know that that doesn't shape their legacy."
"They're judged by a four-year body of work, and their four-year body of work is pretty damn good."
These seniors captivated a fanbase that wanted nothing more than a winner. They inspired that fanbase with their underdog spirit, and they taught that fanbase how to believe and hope with their undying commitment. They took everyone on a fairy tale journey. They did what nobody else ever could. They took the college basketball world by storm. They played for themselves and each other. They represented their school admirably. These seniors grew up at Northwestern.
These seniors are Northwestern.