NU upset hopes a fairy tale

Andrew Simon

Once upon a time, there was an adorable little basketball team called the Wildcats. This team was never the most talented, but it earned something of a reputation as Giant Killers, at least within its Welsh-Ryan Arena lair.

Nowadays this all seems like a fairy tale.

Whatever magic once existed within Welsh-Ryan’s friendly confines seems to be gone.

That isn’t to say Northwestern was ever great. At this point, everyone is familiar with the program’s sorry history.

But at least the Cats always showed the ability to stay right with superior teams at home. Sometimes NU would even pull off a miraculous victory. Wins over ranked Iowa squads in 2005 and 2006 come to mind. Even as recently as last season, NU threw serious scares into then-No. 3 Wisconsin and then-No. 5 Ohio State.

In 2008, Welsh-Ryan has seen a tarnishing of its reputation as a house of horrors (or at least of nervous moments) for opponents.

In conference play, NU has fallen by double-digit totals to lowly Penn State and Michigan. The Cats had an opportunity to right the ship against a high-caliber foe Thursday night but fell to No. 10 Michigan State, 78-62.

Unlike in past games against top teams, David never seemed to rattle Goliath this time. In last season’s contests against the Badgers and Buckeyes, the visitors had to sweat it out. At times, the upset was tantalizingly within reach.

This time there was only a chilling sense of inevitability to the proceedings, reinforced when the Spartans grabbed a 21-point lead with 5:18 remaining in the half.

Sure, NU had its moments. The Cats cut their deficit to as little as seven with 38 seconds left before halftime, when Kevin Coble’s trey capped a 16-2 run. But even then, there was no sense the outcome of the game was up in the air.

“I wouldn’t say we were worried,” Michigan State center Drew Naymick said. “This has happened before this year.”

Following Coble’s 3-pointer, freshman Chris Allen calmly buried a 3-pointer to reestablish Michigan State’s momentum heading into the locker room.

After halftime, the Spartans raced out on a 12-0 run and never looked back.

Maybe some of that was due to Tom Izzo’s coaching, Drew Neitzel’s leadership or the team’s recent string of success at Welsh-Ryan.

But maybe the biggest reason why the Giant Killers are relinquishing their title is something far more worrisome for NU fans. Maybe the team and its home court have lost their upset magic.

So much for storybook endings.

Sports Editor Andrew Simon is a Medill junior. Reach him at [email protected]