“A lot of it will come down to heart and how badly we want it.”
After Dave Sobolewski offered this assessment following the 94-66 loss to Michigan, Northwestern responded. In recent outings, the Wildcats have persevered despite missing several key players.
The “heart” was on full display at Illinois, where NU pulled off an impressive 68-54 win. And if you pointed to one player who best exemplifies this quality, it would probably be senior Reggie Hearn.
He has developed from an unpolished walk-on to an all-Big Ten candidate. Without Drew Crawford and Jershon Cobb, Hearn is the guy. He averages 14.1 points per game and shoots nearly 51 percent from the field.
Hearn can also make the hustle plays, and his game is built on strong effort. He said he hopes to be remembered as “somebody who gave his all every single game, who did whatever it took to help the team.”
With the team in desperate need of leadership, Hearn acts as a steadying force. Since the season opener, he has reached double-digit scoring totals in all but one game – a six-point effort in the clunker against Iowa.
When the Cats looked for an upset in Champaign, Hearn rebounded in spectacular fashion. Though he attempted just seven field goal tries, Hearn scored 20 points, including nine from the free throw line. It was a critical win for the team, and Hearn was a major catalyst.
“We definitely needed (the win), just for our confidence and our team spirit,” senior forward Jared Swopshire said.
It is clear that Hearn has the ability to lift his teammates. When Tre Demps rode the bench early in the season, he said he viewed Hearn as an example of how to work for your minutes. Hearn barely played for two seasons, but fought his way into the starting lineup, and then into the spotlight.
Due to the team’s recent injuries, Demps has been called upon more often. Though many call him a “chucker,” Demps still makes an offensive impact, averaging 10.3 points in his last nine games.
The injury woes have provided an additional challenge for the veterans. Rather than leaning on trusted players, NU uses an Army of freshmen, hoping to earn wins in a difficult Big Ten.
“We’ve had to put a lot of new guys in spots that they’re not necessarily used to being in,” Hearn said. “We have to keep working at it, and continue to get guys practicing.”
The team will not quit. They struggled against Michigan, fell apart at Minnesota, and labored through a poor performance when Iowa came to town. Still, at 2-3, NU is hanging around the middle of the conference standings.
Hearn said that Wisconsin provided the blueprint for beating No. 2 Indiana – which comes to town Sunday – by maintaining a slow pace. The Hoosiers are one of the top scoring teams in the nation. Staying patient will be crucial if the Cats hope to reach the .500 mark in conference play.
“We’re going to have to impose our will and control the tempo,” Hearn said. “We know they’re a dangerous team so we have to be disciplined.”
Thankfully, the Cats have a leader to keep them on track.
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