Jared Swopshire attacked the basket. He rose to finish an uncontested layup, before being mauled by Minnesota forward Trevor Mbakwe. No call.
Assistant coach Fred Hill turned six shades of red. Bill Carmody was livid. At that point, with Northwestern down by five, the Wildcats could easily have wilted.
The thing is, they just keep coming back stronger.
Back on the other end, with the focus still intact, Alex Marcotullio stole the ball. He relayed the ball to Dave Sobolewski, who found Reggie Hearn for the lay-in. And-one.
On the next possession, Marcotullio – who anchored the 1-3-1 zone – came up with another steal. The Wildcats had a four-on-one. Sobolewski found Hearn again. And-one.
Minnesota coach Tubby Smith could see the frustration mounting. The No. 12 Gophers were rattled by Northwestern. They struggled with the zone, and somehow let the Wildcats pull away.
When the final whistle sounded after a 55-48 win, NU hardly reacted. The half-full student section tried to compensate by shouting twice as loud. But few expected this, save for the guys on the court.
Drew Crawford’s name never came up in the postgame press conference. Neither did the word “injury.” The Cats are busy finding their identity, ready to make a late-season run. At 3-4, traveling to Nebraska on Saturday, NU has an excellent chance of returning to .500 in conference play. Though the remaining schedule is still difficult, the team delivered a strong message on Wednesday.
Don’t count them out.
Tonight, NU struggled in several areas. They made only 17 of 32 free-throw attempts. They allowed Minnesota to grab 15 offensive rebounds in the first half. It was far from the perfect performance. But with aggression, heart, and savvy play, NU earned a memorable victory.
It began with Jared Swopshire, the inconsistent senior looking to become something more than a role player. In the opening frame, he carried his team. Swopshire nailed four of his five first-half field goal attempts. With the rest shooting just 31 percent, those baskets were necessary.
Senior Reggie Hearn – the emotional leader – picked up the slack. He scored eight of his 13 points in the second half, including those consecutive and-ones. After the game, it was hard to tell whether he was emotional or simply spent. In his final season, the former walk-on is willing the Cats into contention.
Alex Marcotullio, who was laboring through a season-long shooting slump, has found his place on this team. He played 16 minutes in the second half, and posted a game-high three steals to go along with two critical three-pointers.
In a collective effort, new starter Tre Demps contributed. Despite connecting on just three of his 10 shots, he managed to make an impact. He showed promise with consistent drives to the rim, and held his own on the defensive end.
These are just some of the heroes from this Northwestern win. No Crawford, no Cobb, no Lumpkin. Yet the team pulled off one of the most surprising wins in recent program history.
There’s something about this NU team that was missing in past seasons. Maybe it’s a sense of urgency, driven by motivation to prove themselves to a disillusioned fan base.
One thing is for certain: NU believes it can beat anyone. And after tonight, we’re starting to believe them too.
Follow on Twitter: @NicholasMedline