Wildcats keep up the intensity in defeat (Men’s Basketball)

Andrew Simon

The old adage advises that if you have nothing nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all.

This leaves me with very little to say about this year’s Wildcats.

After all, Northwestern is winless in the Big Ten and has only one victory against a team in the top 200 of the RPI.

But after watching the Cats hang with the Buckeyes for most of the game Wednesday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena, I will say this about them: No matter how bad this season gets, they are not giving up.

It’s not much, but it’s something.

Whether coach Bill Carmody will be around next season is up in the air, but his players clearly have not quit on him, despite the difficult circumstances.

Of course, they shouldn’t.

But it would be hard to blame them if their enthusiasm waned a little bit after they losing their first 10 conference games by at least 10 points, including Wednesday night’s 18-point loss to the Buckeyes and a 33-point drubbing at the hands of Illinois last month.

Clearly the enthusiasm and the drive are still there, even though NU is battling for its first conference win rather than a spot in the NCAA or even NIT tournament. This fire was evident throughout Wednesday night’s game.

The Cats aggressively chased loose balls. They flew out of bounds. They tumbled to the floor.

Defensively, they charged into the passing lanes and scrapped as best they could with the bigger Buckeyes, forcing enough turnovers (18) to stay in the game until the final seven minutes.

Offensively, they charged to the hoop and willingly drew contact on the rare occasions they were able to penetrate Ohio State’s pressure defense.

When things went well, they pumped their fists. When things went wrong, they yelled and grimaced.

Inevitably the game began slipping away in the closing minutes with an 18-2 run by Ohio State. But even then, and with the student section less than half full, the Cats continued to give their full effort until the final buzzer.

“(Trying to keep our intensity up) is the least of our problems right now,” junior guard Craig Moore said. “We’re going to stay intense all the time.”

Because reserve guard Jason Okrzesik and the little-used Tonjua Jones are NU’s only seniors, the Cats’ core will remain intact next year.

That means NU figures to have a better chance to be competitive in the Big Ten next season. And if that’s the case, the team’s attitude will be a huge asset.

But as Moore said after the game, the Cats can’t look ahead to next season yet. For now, they have to focus on salvaging something from this season, no matter how much the losing wears on them.

“It’s frustrating, but you can’t let it affect you,” Moore said.

“You’ve got to come in every day and work hard. If anything, this motivates you to get better.”

Moore also claimed that despite the team’s struggles thus far, it could still conceivably make an appearance in March Madness.

All it would have to do is win five consecutive games in the Big Ten tournament.

That might be a pipe dream, but it’s the kind of mentality you have to have if you’re going to fight through adversity.

“We’re right there, but there’s that little hill there that we’ve got to get over, and I know that everybody (on the team) is just as motivated as I am,” Moore said.

That motivation may not translate into wins, but it will lead to a lot of floor burns.