Wildcats not crushed by loss

They'd already met expectations, writes Steven Goldstein. Let's cut them some slack.

In the first half Saturday, Northwestern kept it close despite shooting less than 40 percent, again. A botched goaltending call that led to a four-point swing and an eight-point Nebraska advantage didn't stop NU either: The team promptly stormed back to tie the game with consecutive threes from Drew Crawford. Northwestern ultimately lost Saturday, at the hands of a heavily contested three ball from Terran Petteway as the shot clock expired.

It's a "bad loss" in the sense that Welsh-Ryan was packed to the rafters with an overwhelming purple contingent for the first time in two years. It's not a bad loss because the Wildcats failed to meet expectations or did themselves in. NU's impressive three-week run fostered unreasonable and unexpected postseason hopes for 2014, and while losing to the Huskers 53-49 Saturday hinders those hopes, this wasn't the type of collapse or choke that we've crushed the team for in years past. Remember the team we're dealing with here.

"Our defense held up the entire game. It's not so much about what we didn't do, aside from the fact that it was tough for us to score. It's been like that all year, and we've been working through it," Chris Collins said. "I'm really proud of our guys. They played hard down the stretch. They won this game. We didn't lose it."

Northwestern still played tough defense around the perimeter, and held Nebraska to just 40.1 percent shooting from the floor. When the momentum swung following the missed goaltending call, NU remained poised, showed maturity and quickly tied the game.

The hustle and heart that won road games in Wisconsin and Indiana and the double-overtime game against Purdue was still on display Saturday, but Petteway and the Huskers made the shots this time. That's why Collins didn't sound crushed after the game, and he didn't lament any missed opportunities. Northwestern was prepared and played it close, and even though the team has a surprisingly good record, that's about all you can ask for right now.

"We didn't deviate from what we've been doing the last few games. We got the game tied, and they hit incredible shots at the end of the shot clock. Sometimes guys do that," Collins said.

"You're very disappointed. We put everything into this game. When you care that much and you're that invested, it hurts when you lose. In this league, it doesn't matter who you're playing. Everyone has a similar record and anyone can win on any given night. Are we disappointed? Absolutely. Are we defeated? No. We have seven more games to play."

NIT hopes are still alive but unlikely with trips to Michigan State and Ohio State coming. The wistful Tourney talk is already done. But the loss wasn't exactly devastating, considering how far Northwestern has crushed initial expectations and how in sync Collins and his players seem to be. Next year, these losses become costly; for now, it's just part of the process.

"Every loss is disappointing, but this one came after a good few games," Crawford said.

"We never once this whole year talked about wins or losses," Collins added. "This week, we talked about staying grounded. Our guys were rightfully getting praise for what they've done in the past few weeks. We take it all with a grain of salt, and it's too early to be talking about postseason."

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