Two shots launched from near halfcourt at Assembly Hall on Saturday night launched a thousand what-ifs.
The first, born from the hands of Devonte Green, arrived just in time for halftime and put a bow on Indiana’s 22-0 run when it went in.
The last, released with a hope and a prayer by Bryant McIntosh, arrived just in time for the final buzzer but clashed violently with the same rim and never found its way in, leaving Northwestern with a 63-62 loss and still looking for a way into its first NCAA tournament.
“I thought I hit it,” McIntosh said.
Another shot, a slam dunk by Thomas Bryant with two seconds left, left the score even at 62.
But Northwestern’s Scottie Lindsey, the team leading scorer and one of its top defenders, put victory in Bryant’s hands when he fouled him on the attempt.
Bryant bounced the ball off the rim and in, leaving the Wildcats forlorn, frustrated and still one win shy of a school record.
“In that situation you have to foul harder than that,” McIntosh said. “You can’t give up an and-1. There are a lot of things we wish we could have back.”Northwestern coach Chris Collins on 63-62 loss to Indiana
Northwestern coach Chris Collins reacts after the 63-62 loss to Indiana on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (Paul Skrbina/Chicago Tribune)
Northwestern coach Chris Collins reacts after the 63-62 loss to Indiana on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (Paul Skrbina/Chicago Tribune)See more videos
McIntosh, the Wildcats’ undisputed leader, wasn’t pinning defeat on Lindsey. But he’s been more vocal during the team’s recent skid. Losing five of seven can do that to a team hoping to make history.
McIntosh said after last week’s loss at Illinois that some of his teammates needed to do some “soul searching.”
Before the McIntosh’s final prayer went unanswered Saturday, the Wildcats (20-9, 9-7 Big Ten) had just four players on the floor before a fifth entered the fray. The plan at first was for Gavin Skelly to be in. Then it changed to Nathan Taphorn. Skelly eventually made it to the floor in time for the chaos, only to watch McIntosh’s shot stray left.
The Hoosiers closed with an 8-0 run during the final 1 minute, 33 seconds after McIntosh made a free-throw for a 62-55 lead.
“I felt like we controlled the whole second half,” he said. “We have to be better in the last minute if we are going to do things we want to do.”
Northwestern led for 24:43 to Indiana’s 10:49 but shot just 22.2 percent from behind the 3-point line and 39 percent overall. The Hoosiers, though, led when it mattered most.
Photos from the Northwestern-Indiana men's college basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, in Bloomington, Ind.
To make matters a bit worse, that season-saving victory against then-No. 7 Wisconsin on the road has lost a bit of shine since the Badgers have lost two of three, including Thursday against Ohio State.
But Northwestern is its own biggest concern moving forward.
The Wildcats will face Michigan, which just upset Purdue, and Purdue to finish the regular season. Then they’re off to the Big Ten tournament in Washington, D.C.
Where they go after that remains to be seen.
Tribune reporter Shannon Ryan ranks the Big Ten men's basketball teams through the action of Feb. 19, 2017.(Shannon Ryan)
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