Men’s Basketball: Wildcats look to carry momentum into big game at Indiana


Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Chris Collins turns to scream at the bench. Collins and the team look to pick up another crucial conference victory at Indiana on Sunday.

Joseph Wilkinson, Sports Editor

Men’s Basketball

Last year, the stars almost aligned. There was Indiana native Bryant McIntosh, watching his half court shot sail toward the hoop with a chance to knock off the most historically successful basketball program in his home state.

The shot rimmed out, Northwestern lost, and McIntosh fell to 0-2 at Assembly Hall in his college career. Sunday, he’ll have his final chance at victory in the historic venue as Northwestern (11-7, 2-3 Big Ten) travels to face the Hoosiers (10-7, 3-2) in Bloomington.

McIntosh is coming off one of his most impressive performances of this season, setting a school record with 16 assists against Minnesota on Wednesday.

Overall, however, it has been an up-and-down season for the senior guard. While he’s still the heartbeat of the Cats’ offense, McIntosh is shooting a career-low percentage from the field and suffered a left knee injury that kept him out a game earlier this season and has left him playing with a bulky knee brace.

“I thought my career here was over,” McIntosh said. “You don’t know if something’s wrong, or if you tore anything, you just continue to look at the jersey. To be able to put it back on, and go out and play was so much fun tonight. All the joy that we played with was great.”

This year might be McIntosh’s best chance at victory in Bloomington. Even with the Wildcats scuffling through conference play, Indiana has disappointed as well. The Hoosiers have lost by double digits to several unimpressive opponents — Fort Wayne, Indiana State and Wisconsin — so far this season.

Both teams, however, are coming off impressive victories, as Indiana took down Penn State on Tuesday while NU cruised to a 23-point victory over Minnesota.

“We just really got back to having a lot of fun playing,” senior guard Scottie Lindsey said. “This practice week was great for us. I definitely think it helped all our guys’ confidence. … The way we played is definitely going to build everyone’s confidence.”

While the 23-point margin looks impressive, the Golden Gophers’ roster was depleted without the injured Amir Coffey and suspended Reggie Lynch who is facing a sexual assault investigation.

The Hoosiers’ roster, however, is also missing a major presence in the middle as center De’Ron Davis tore his achilles and is out for the year. Unlike the Golden Gophers, however, the Hoosiers have effectively compensated in his absence, managing to grind out victories over Minnesota and Penn State.

Davis was scoring 9.6 points per game and had 22 blocks on the season, but the Hoosiers have adjusted by playing small ball in his absence. More perimeter-oriented players like forwards Collin Hartman and Zach McRoberts have each averaged over 20 minutes per game in Davis’ absence.

NU has struggled at times defending such teams that could spread the floor, falling to Creighton and Oklahoma under an onslaught of 3-pointers. Those two teams started perimeter players at four of five positions and combined to shoot 25-for-44 from deep.

Unlike Oklahoma and Creighton, however, Indiana is not a strong 3-point shooting team. The two former teams have combined to make over 39 percent of their shots from 3-point range this year; Indiana is shooting just 30.5 percent from deep. So while it’s possible that the Cats will once again allow a bevy of shots from long range, there’s no guarantee that the Hoosiers will make them.

After an encouraging outing against Minnesota, NU will look to carry that positive momentum into this weekend’s conference clash.

“Our main message after the Penn State game was that we’ve got to regain our heart, we’ve got to regain our spirit,” coach Chris Collins said. “We had some great spirited practices. … Sometimes you do something new and it gives the guys a little life.”

Twitter: @joe_f_wilkinson