Wildcats' senior night disappoints

It's okay to criticize Northwestern. On a big night, they put forth a terrible outing.

Drew Crawford left the Welsh-Ryan floor more often than anyone in history. On Thursday, he took one final exit, his career nearing the finish line.

Chris Collins embraced the departing senior and told him a version of this: "Nothing about the game defines you." This will sting Crawford, but Collins is right.

Crawford had an excellent career. His awful 2-for-9 outing will fade. The story is not a symbol of his career, which ranks among the NU greats.

The story is that Thursday was one of the saddest performances you'll ever see.

Sad were the emotions. Crawford, Nikola Cerina and James Montgomery III end their home careers with a 27-point loss to Penn State. Crawford was visibly frustrated for much of the night. Collins, meanwhile, was almost tearing up when discussing his class and career.

But, to be fair, sadder was a Northwestern team that has lost every shred of confidence. This Wildcats group inspired a dormant campus by reaching the .500 mark more than halfway through the conference season. They defied odds, but showed the chip solid teams require.

The same Wildcats put up an embarrassing "32" against Penn State, which isn't acceptable even during a rebuild.

Six assists to 12 turnovers.

Twenty-three percent shooting.

Fourteen percent from players not named Olah.

Failed closeouts. A defense that kept slipping.

It's on the players to finish this strong, even without Jershon Cobb. They have a supportive coach who works well with players he never recruited. Collins' demeanor, if not his coaching, has been admired and respected by just about everyone.

NU, instead of improving, gave fans every reason to use the old refrain: "Wait until next year." (Frankly, next year doesn't even look that promising. Cobb is the only reliable offensive threat to return, with a slew of unproven freshmen in the fold.)

They work hard, of course. It's not my place to ever criticize their routine, their fight or their hustle.

But I'm probably not alone in saying Thursday went beyond the athletic shortcomings. The players, especially Tre Demps, seemed mentally affected by the game. There's hardly any way to explain the 32 points or the bad defense.

It's not Collins' fault, directly, but the change to his grind-it-out strategy might have killed the team's offensive confidence. On Thursday, they played strangely "tight" for a 5-11 team with nothing to lose. There was errant passing and terrible ball movement. As usual, they weren't going anywhere.

I'm sure they want to be held to higher standards. No one on this team would like to be remembered as Collins' bad first unit. They realized their potential midway through the season. They set the bar high in January, and are now coming embarrassingly short of competing.

It's okay to have expected better. The fans in the seats tonight got nothing. The students got nothing. Next year will be better, but why does that excuse this one?

Again: thirty-two points.

For a while, in late January, they were making this season mean something. That was the goal all along.

A sad, unacceptable game took away from Crawford's night. This team disappointed, and it's fine to admit it.


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