With that NCAA Tournament bid coming Sunday, Northwestern is still putting things in its own hands. The Wildcats are officially in uncharted territory.
Scottie Lindsey told the assembled media at Verizon Center following Northwestern’s surprising 72-64 throttling of Maryland his team does not really know what they are doing right now.
Lindsey: "I don't think we really realize what we're doing right now."
— Daily NU Sports (@DailyNU_Sports) March 11, 2017
What had just transpired in the 40 minutes of basketball that came before — and more specifically a second half that saw Northwestern fall behind by 10 points and then go on another blitzing run to take a 10-point lead themselves on the way to a 72-64 win — was still dumbfounding.
Northwestern is not supposed to have the will to gut out games against talented teams like Maryland. The Wildcats are not supposed to deal with the pressure well and rise to the moment. They never have before. At a certain point, Maryland surely thought Melo Trimble would take over.
He never did. Bryant McIntosh and Victor Law and Scottie Lindsey took their turns smothering the All-Big Ten selection. Trimble finished with 20 points, six rebounds four assists and six turnovers. The hot shooting from Kevin Huerter that kept Maryland in it in the first half had cooled off.
Northwestern was swarming and smothering Maryland in the end. The Terrapins tried to press and the Wildcats broke it with ease, finding Dererk Pardon for a reverse layup and a statement.
to this point, Northwestern had not actually done very much the team had done before. The Wildcats had only set a program record with 21 wins. But the actual tangible accomplishment — the NCAA Tournament berth — would not become official until Sunday.
Saturday, Northwestern will do something it has never done before. The Wildcats will play in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament. They are playing the weekend of a major conference tournament. They are playing with house money and they have a chance to bring some hardware home.
Northwestern has officially entered uncharted territory with their basketball success. The Tournament is assured. A championship is in sight. And Northwestern has the ability to win it.
The Wildcats proved it against the Terrapins, playing a virtual road game in a packed Verizon Center.
Northwestern twice had to erase 10-point deficits. The Wildcats had to withstand foul trouble from Vic Law throughout the game. The Wildcats had to withstand losing a 10-point lead.
There were plenty of moments where Northwestern teams of old would have folded. There were plenty of moments where the team would have had every excuse to lose the game.
Northwestern was throwing the ball around, committing more turnovers than assists at halftime. Northwestern finished with 16 turnovers for the game. The Wildcats were sloppy and gave up the lead because of their inability even to get a shot off at times.
Down by 10 points, Northwestern seemed on its way to another broken possession when Bryant McIntosh got a pass in the corner and drained a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to seven.
Northwestern was off to the races from there.
McIntosh was hitting floaters. Vic Law was driving into the lane and hitting jumpers. Scottie Lindsey was pulling up. Sanjay Lumpkin and Dererk Pardon were spearheading a defense shutting off theTerrapins’ 3-point shooting and their rebounding ability.
Northwestern dominated the final 10 minutes of the game. There was no doubt this team was the tougher, grittier, better team on this day.
Mike Hall described Chris Collins at the final media timeout on the BTN broadcast. He flipped the board over and wrote 3:30, the time remaining. Collins said this is all you have, no excuses.
There were plenty of moments when Northwestern teams, even under Collins, have folded with that same directive. The Wildcats have built their reputation of losing by losing games like this — both facing the magnitude of the moment and the pressure of finishing any game.
This Wildcats team has been different all year. This Northwestern team has found a way to win these games all year. The loss to Indiana proved to be the outlier. The game where the Wildcats thought they had it in the bag and went conservative, watching the perfect combination of misfortunes befall them.
That was the last vestige of the old Northwestern.
This Northwestern is the team that throws the ball down the length of the court for a game-winning lay in. This is the Northwestern that methodically erases a deficit and takes control of the game. That breaks the press and attacks even with a lead.
The Wildcats had to shed that old identity throughout this season. With each big win, Northwestern believed more and more.
There is no more believing. This is reality. The Wildcats can win these games. They can make noise in the tournament.
They can win the Big Ten.