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Without Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern Can’t Close Out Games

Bryant McIntosh missed Tuesday night’s game with a knee injury. For 32 minutes, the Wildcats looked like a team.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Northwestern Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

ROSEMONT, ILLINOIS— As Brown took a 47-46 lead over Northwestern just two and a half minutes in to the second half on Saturday, Allstate Arena went silent. There was Bryant McIntosh, down on the floor, clutching his left knee. Everyone was scared of what they thought would lie ahead of them. A Bryant McIntosh-less Northwestern was not something that the team had experienced since his arrival in Evanston in the summer of 2014.

McIntosh limped off the court, barely putting pressure on his knee.

The game finished with no sight of McIntosh. After the game, Collins had no idea of his status. He mentioned that he didn’t even want to fathom what would happen to the team if Northwestern lost its star.

“Nobody’s gonna be able to do what Bryant does and a lot of what we do is built around him running our team and having the ball,” Collins said post game.

While the extent of the injury was not known, the Wildcats feared if he was indeed going to be out long-term, any chances of postseason basketball for this team were about to be lost.

On Sunday, Bryant McIntosh found out he would not be out long term with a knee injury, and there was potential for him to play on Tuesday.

He took some shots pregame and looked like he may be able to give it a go. Ultimately, he came out in the court in street clothes.

Tuesday night, the Wildcats took the floor to play Nebraska. As Collins noted on Saturday, without McIntosh, filling his role would be a collective effort from Anthony Gaines, Isiah Brown, and Jordan Ash. Ash, a defensive specialist, got the start.

For 32 minutes, Northwestern played well. Ball movement was not perfect, but defensively they were locked in. The last 8 minutes, however, were a different story. Northwestern looked different on the court. The drive and energy they had prior was gone. Sure, they were only shooting 29% from the floor, but they just looked different as a team. The momentum shift that often occurs with the Wildcats down the stretch didn’t happen.

The Wildcats were down one after Vic Law hit two shots from the charity stripe. James Palmer Jr. dunked in transition on the other end. Pardon hit a jump shot to make it one-point game again, but Anton Gill hit a three to put the Huskers up 46-42, and they never looked back.

Bryant McIntosh was missed in the final 8 minutes of the game. His ability to make shots for others and just spread opponents defensively is what helps Northwestern win close games. If he were on the court for the final 8 minutes, this game may have had a different ending.

After the game, Tim Miles said without Bryant McIntosh, the Huskers took chances defensively that they may not have if McIntosh was on the court. Dererk Pardon spoke about what it meant to play without McIntosh.

“Bryant was a big part of our team but I mean I feel like we still had enough pieces to win the game,” said Pardon. “Going in to the second half, 8 minutes left to go, we were only down one, we had to lock in and defend and we didn’t do that.”

The reason they didn’t do that?

“I think it was a matter of just locking in mentally, I feel like some of us weren’t locked in mentally and that affected the whole team,” said Pardon.

As Bryant McIntosh watched from the bench, it was easy to see that he wanted nothing more than to be out on the court fighting to win with his teammates.

After the game, Tim Miles credited the hard work that McIntosh puts in on the court and recognized him as on of the best in the league. He knew, in part, Northwestern lost because their leader wasn’t out there with them.

“I hope he gets back soon because the league needs him and he’s a heck of a player.”