Men’s Basketball: Wildcats enter Illinois matchup looking to avoid losing skid

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Daily file photo by Rachel Dubner

Bryant McIntosh drives past defenders. The junior guard will look to lead Northwestern back on the winning track against Illinois.

Garrett Jochnau, Sports Editor


Men’s Basketball


There’s consensus among the leaders of Northwestern’s locker room regarding what the team has to do against Illinois on Tuesday: Stop the bleeding.

After last Wednesday’s crushing defeat to No. 16 Purdue, the Wildcats don’t need to sound the alarm; they simply have to ensure that the losses don’t compound.

“Most likely you’re not going to run the table in the Big Ten,” coach Chris Collins said. “What you have to eliminate are extended losing streaks. When you do get beat, which is going to happen and happened to us last week, you have to stop the bleeding.”

NU’s upcoming home matchup against the Fighting Illini isn’t a Purdue-sized test, nor does it promise to be the uphill battle the Cats will face Sunday against No. 7 Wisconsin. But sandwiched between games against two ranked opponents, Tuesday’s showdown against a beatable Illinois team is a must-win for NU as it looks to avoid a losing streak.

And even if the cross-state rivals don’t command the same surface respect as the Big Ten’s brass, Collins and his team are prepared for a challenge.

“The fine line and the margin for error is very slim in this league, and there’s always a couple of games that could swing a record either way,” Collins said. “When you play a rivalry game or an interstate game like this, it doesn’t really matter what the records are, because they’re going to be ready to play.”

It won’t be the first time the Cats enter a winnable game with the added burden of preventing a skid. Earlier this year, NU followed up a dynamic non-conference campaign with a win over Penn State before dropping consecutive games to Michigan State and Minnesota.

The Cats rebounded, though, handing Nebraska its first conference loss to spark the six-game winning streak that preceded Wednesday’s rout by Purdue. Collins said his team showed “urgency” against the Cornhuskers — the same kind of urgency he expects Tuesday.

Much of the team’s resilience stems from its veteran core. Junior guard Bryant McIntosh and company know the importance of avoiding losing streaks — they’ve been on the wrong side of them on more than one occasion in years prior, the gold standard being the Cats’ 10-game drought in 2014-15.

But the guard and his team have matured since then, and feel better equipped to make the decisive plays necessary to avoid a similar collapse.

“This is a league that you have to almost be old in to really find a lot of success,” McIntosh said.

These Cats have the veteran presence necessary to shake off the disappointing loss that knocked them out of the AP’s Top 25 after just one week. They’re aware that a road loss to Purdue, an elite team that played near-perfect basketball out of the gate, is hardly the end of the world.

They also know that each game is a test, and the circumstances that precede the Illinois contest make it that much more important. But NU is prepared to return to its winning ways.

“It’s the teams that protect home court and stop the bleeding after that one loss or one game that are good in the league,” senior forward Sanjay Lumpkin said. “We approach every game as the biggest game of our season, every game is extremely important. It’s going to be no different tomorrow, and we’ll be ready.”

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Twitter: @GarrettJochnau

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