Close Isn't Enough

Northwestern dropped another game in the final minute during its 58-56 loss to Purdue on Saturday. This marked the Wildcats' third loss of such nature this season. As NU looks to reach the NCAA tournament, it has to win these down-to-the-wire games.

Northwestern coach Bill Carmody didn't have much to say in his postgame press conference following the Wildcats' 58-56 loss to Purdue on Saturday; no clichés, no coach-speak. Instead, he called it like it was — "another tough loss for us," he said.

It's a phrase NU fans have become all too accustomed to hearing this season, one that has been muttered over and over en route to a 2-6 conference record.

The Cats are 0-3 in Big Ten games decided by two points or less. Two of those games were at home, one against in-state rival Illinois and the other on Saturday against Purdue. The third came after NU blew a lead at Michigan.

"It hurts to lose; it definitely hurts to lose," junior guard Drew Crawford said. "We've been in this position, it seems, for a few weeks now. It's tough. We just have to watch the film and just learn from it."

The Cats certainly have a lot to work on, as offensive production has been scarce during the past three games. NU was hurt by sloppy play on the offensive end against Purdue, turning the ball over 16 times.

However, the biggest problem may be execution in the clutch, which this team has failed to do this season.

To make the NCAA Tournament, the Cats needed to win the close games, not just keep the games close. Now, due to so many close losses, every game from here on out is a tournament game to stay alive for March.

To do that, NU will have to learn to finish, because if the close calls continue, the script of this season will yet again read "close, but no cigar."

This team undoubtedly has talent, possibly the most in the Carmody era. John Shurna and Crawford are two of the best players in the Big Ten. Reggie Hearn has quietly put together a solid season. Dave Sobolewski has been a consistent contributor all season at point guard.

The Cats are good, but as we've seen every game since conference season began, a lot of teams in the Big Ten are good. In a conference with so many equally matched teams, NU has to play well in the clutch. It's failed to do that so far this season.

That's the good and bad news for the Cats — they finally have a team capable of playing with the rest of the conference, but they've failed to meet expectations.

There's still time for this season to be a success, with half of conference play still ahead. However, NU needs to find a go-to scorer in the clutch. Purdue has one in Robbie Hummel, who stepped up for his team late in the game, hitting the game-winning shot.

"Obviously, anytime you have a guy like Hummel you want the ball in his hands to make a decision or make shots," Purdue coach Matt Painter said.

NU needs a player like that, be it Shurna or Crawford, who can step up and win games in the clutch.

There's still time for someone to step up and still time for the Cats to come up with a close win. However, time is running out on what could have been the best season in Northwestern history, one bad loss at a time.

It's up to NU's stars to change that.

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