Northwestern was on the brink of a devastating loss. Then Bryant McIntosh came to the rescue, as he always does, helping Northwestern defeat Rutgers.
Northwestern trailed by five points at the under-four timeout in the second half against Rutgers.
No offense, to the Scarlet Knights, but this is the one game the Wildcats could not afford to drop on their trek to their first-ever NCAA Tournament berth. This was the “sure thing” to ensure there were no bad losses on the road to the Dance.
Rutgers was not having any of that. The Scarlet Knights attacked the offensive glass, grabbing a 45.0 percent offensive rebound rate. Nearly half of all their misses, the Knights grabbed. Rutgers scored 17 second-chance points.
All that was mounting against Northwestern as the worst thoughts began to creep in. Welsh-Ryan Arena was begging for something to get excited about and to will the team to victory.
So was the team’s junior leader.
Bryant McIntosh’s season has not been clean. He is shooting a career-low 37.8 percent. But he is still Northwestern’s best and most consistent playmaker. When the Wildcats need a shot or a play made, McIntosh is where the team always turns.
Coming out of that timeout, Northwestern needed someone to take the ball into the paint and make a big shot. And that someone was McIntosh. It could not be anyone else.
With Northwestern trailing by two points, he set up a screen and roll with Dererk Pardon came around to the top of the key and fired a 3-pointer. Relief swept through Welsh-Ryan Arena.
And then McIntosh made another big play, tracking down an offensive rebound with Northwestern up one point. The ensuing free throws helped ice the game and ensure the Wildcats won 69-65 on Saturday.
McIntosh finished with 18 points and six assists on 6-for-11 shooting. He darted into the lane for his patented floaters and probed the defense. When Northwestern was playing its best — when Northwestern needed to play its best — McIntosh was the one controlling the tempo and the ball.
This has not been an easy season for McIntosh.
He is averaging the same 13.8 points per game as he did last year, but his shooting has been much less efficient. He is shooting a career-worst 37.8 percent from the floor. But with his 3-point shooting, he posts a 52.6 percent effective field goal percentage.
The pressure of this season certainly has gotten to him too. He is the first of Chris Collins’ recruits to Northwestern. He is the face of the program and the one who would lead them to the promised land eventually.
As Northwestern has needed big shots and big plays, they continually turn to McIntosh, no matter what he has shot.
In Big Ten play, McIntosh has raised his game. He is averaging a career-best 15.4 points per game in conference entering Saturday’s game. He is shooting 39.2 percent from the floor but a 55.1 percent effective field goal percentage. His 3-point shooting has helped bail him and his team out.
Yet the last two wins — against Wisconsin and Rutgers — McIntosh has made big shots and big plays, causing the defense to react and collapse around him.
As good as Vic Law has been, and as good as it was to have Scottie Lindsey back in the lineup — certainly looking a bit off and rusty since missing the last month with mono, and as important as it is to have Dererk Pardon taking up space in the paint and cleaning up around the basket, McIntosh is still the one that makes things go.
McIntosh is still the calming force. He is still the one driving Northwestern. And driving them into the Tournament.
Saturday, the Wildcats needed someone to step up and prevent a disastrous loss. They turned to their leader — Bryant McIntosh. And he, as he has all season even as he struggled, answered the call.