Men’s Basketball: Northwestern hopes string of close losses will end against Ohio State


Sean Su/Daily Senior Staffer

JerShon Cobb fights off his defender. The senior guard has battled injuries this season but has looked closer to full strength in producing double-digit points in two of his last three games.

Bobby Pillote, Assistant Sports Editor

Northwestern can’t seem to catch a break.

Five days after yet another tight loss, this time in heart-breaking fashion on the road against Michigan, the Wildcats (10-8, 1-4 Big Ten) face the challenge of hosting the Ohio State Buckeyes (14-5, 3-3), a slumping but still dangerous conference foe. Despite the physical and emotional exhaustion facing his team, coach Chris Collins believes his squad is prepared and ready to go.

“We can’t lose our fighting spirit,” he said. “These guys know we’re close, they know we’re right there. … We have to keep our confidence up and focus on the positive things that we’re doing.”

But besting the Buckeyes will be no small task for the Cats, even on NU’s home court. Ohio State is led by shooting guard D’Angelo Russell, a precocious and prolific athlete who is already running away with Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors thanks to his video-game-like stat line.

Russell leads the Buckeyes in minutes played, shoots almost as well from beyond the arc — 44 percent — as he does from everywhere — 46 percent — and predictably leads the team in scoring with 18.6 points per game, good for third in the Big Ten.

And, adding insult to injury, he also leads Ohio State in rebounds with 5.1 per game — as a guard.

Based on how NU has handled other hot-handed perimeter players this season, Russell is serious cause for concern. The Cats surrendered 16 points to Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker, 18 to Michigan State’s Travis Trice, 25 to Illinois’ Kendrick Nunn and 18 to Michigan’s Caris LeVert.

A revitalized senior guard JerShon Cobb, who returned to the starting lineup against the Wolverines and played 27 minutes, is likely to draw the difficult assignment of guarding Russell. With Cobb tangled in a tough matchup, NU will need energy and intensity from everybody else on the court to contain the rest of Ohio State’s offense.

That also means more weight will fall on freshman Bryant McIntosh to produce scoring. The standout point guard had an off-night against Michigan, tallying just 4 points, but was given the opportunity to take the game-tying shot and has emerged as Collins’ preferred option.

McIntosh admitted he was hard on himself for the missed shot, but has recovered in the days since and is ready for a hard-fought contest.

“It was a tough one to swallow,” he said. “You have to get ready for the next game. At some point you just have to let it go and get prepared for the next one.”

The emerging star’s razor focus is no doubt in part due to the faith Collins has already placed in McIntosh. When asked if the freshman would be taking more late-game shots in the future, Collins answered immediately.

“I hope so,” he said. “I love the fact that the ball was in his hands (against Michigan) … I wish when it got back to him he would have gone for the win. … He wants the ball.”

In spite of three consecutive close losses, Collins said he trusts his young point guard. He added he expects to see many more game-deciding attempts from McIntosh over his career, and coach and Cats fans alike would certainly appreciate one against Ohio State.

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