You know the scene in Apollo 13 when the oxygen tank ruptures and Jim Lovell says, “We just lost the moon” to his crew? Well, tonight Northwestern’s O2 tank ruptured and they just lost the NCAA Tournament. Now, they need to work a near miracle and recover like Lovell, Swigert, and Haise, in order to at least survive long enough to circle around the moon and make it back to Earth, in other words, make the NIT. If NU can’t find a way to repair their busted-up ship, they will float endlessly off into eternity, in other words, stay home in March. Can it be done? Sure, but it will take a monumental effort to recover from this disaster and right the ship. But, as was the case for flight director Gene Kranz, for coach Bill Carmody, “Failure is not an option.” Otherwise, I have to admit, his future at Northwestern will be very much in doubt.
So how did the Wildcats blow this game? Well, they were completely abysmal at handling Illinois’s trap in the last four minutes. In those four minutes, the Wildcats were leaderless. Craig Moore who has led NU the whole year made perhaps the worst play of the night when he got trapped in the corner and threw a pass to the center of the court I wouldn’t want to see a junior high player throw to start the Illinois run. This was way worse than the loss to Purdue. Every basketball player from small fry to the NBA knows that you can’t stop in the corner against a team that is trapping because they will use the sideline as a third defender. Every basketball player except those who play at Northwestern that is. The Wildcats repeatedly just stopped and let Illinois trap them and force turnovers. The worst part, players like Moore who should know better were just as responsible for these woeful decisions as freshmen like Luka Mirkovic. If the Wildcats could have broken the press NU would have had easy layups thanks to how aggressive the Illini were. Now, every team is going to try and trap Northwestern and based on what was seen tonight, they’ll probably be very successful. The Wildcats need to work on handling traps, right now! I might seem harsh, but blowing a double-digit lead with less than four minutes left is the basketball equivalent of blowing a 38-3 lead in football. This loss is totally unacceptable, it would be unacceptable for a junior high team. As I said, “Evanston we have a problem.” And if this problem isn’t corrected, well, let’s hope we don’t crash and burn.
Now, to end on a positive, the student sections tonight were awesome. Unfortunately, if history repeats itself a great many of those students won’t come back Sunday. Of course, based on the last four minutes, I don’t really blame them. Those of us who choose to watch this team year in and year out might be certifiable. I tell myself it’ll mean more to us when the ‘Cats finally make the NCAA tournament, before tonight I thought I saw that day on the horizon. Now, I just don’t know. I just don't know.