Hearn serves as source of inspiration

Northwestern's season has continued its downward spiral, leaving little hope in the locker room. But the Wildcats still have their senior leadership as motivation.

Dave Sobolewski spoke with frustration and conviction Wednesday night.

Northwestern just dropped its fifth straight game, this one at home to Wisconsin. The Wildcats' downward spiral showed no signs of stopping, not with the youth they field and the injuries they've suffered. But when asked about staying driven, the sophomore point guard said it best: he's competing not only for pride, but also for seniors such as Reggie Hearn and Alex Marcotullio.

"They've been great for me since I got here," Sobolewski said. "I want them to go out on a good note with Northwestern basketball. That's my motivation, I hope the other guys on the team can do that as well."

An exhausted-looking Hearn sat next to Sobolewski on the podium. That's been a trend: he not only leads the team in scoring, but almost certainly in bruises. Visibly drained per usual, he fielded questions with his typical honesty and cool.

A walking example of what Northwestern basketball preaches, Hearn has inspired his team on and off the court all season. It's easy to see where Sobolewski's feelings stem from. His teammates must now respond to the point guard's call, and gear up for the final stretch in honor of their veteran leaders.

Whichever way the remaining contests go down, fans will remember Hearn and Marcotullio fondly. Hearn's journey from walk-on to world-beater won't be forgotten. Marcotullio has had his ups and downs, but last year's game-tying three-ball against Ohio State will echo in the memories of Northwestern fans for years. Losing streak aside, there's a chance for the duo to go out on its own terms.

Four games remain for Northwestern plus the Big Ten Tournament. Season-ending injuries to Drew Crawford and Jared Swopshire have left Hearn and Marcotullio as the last men standing. In a season once full of promise, soon their careers will come to a close one way or the other. It's up to the Wildcats to decide how that happens.

Northwestern faces Purdue on the road Sunday. A victory over a Boilermakers squad it beat with confidence last month would be the first step. Then the Wildcats will go another round with Ohio State in Evanston, a team they've played tough in recent matchups. Beatable Penn State and a giant-killing opportunity against Michigan State in East Lansing will follow. There will be ample spotlight for big moments, should Northwestern seize it.

Being realistic, a true miracle would have to happen for Northwestern, in its current state, to win the Big Ten tourney and Cinderella its way into March. The Wildcats' NIT chances remain uncertain. But post-season play rings unnecessary for Hearn and Marcotullio to leave on a high. As the final moment nears, they'll play every game like it's their last.

"We're not going to go down without a fight," Hearn said. "It's obviously tough what we're going through, but this is no time to be tired and no time to give up."

Keep leading by example, Reggie. See you in West Lafayette.

Follow on Twitter: @Jeremy_Woo

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