In psychology, there’s a commonly cited model when it comes to experiencing loss: the five stages of grief. Going through denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance, those suffering grief pass through each stage as they deal with the immense feeling of loss and process their new situation before they find themselves on the other side.
This is not the case when it comes to Northwestern men’s basketball (9-9, 2-7 B1G). Fans of the team, however, certainly experienced all five stages of grief during the team’s 72-70 loss to Michigan (10-7, 4-3 B1G) on Wednesday night, as the game saw the ’Cats reach incredible highs – including a second-half comeback from being down 10 points – and the usual lows, as they blew a seven-point lead in the final five minutes to drop the game to the Wolverines.
Northwestern was led in their effort – as usual – by senior forward Pete Nance, who recorded a nice statline with 14 points, six rebounds and four assists, and junior guard Boo Buie, who notched 14 points, three rebounds and three assists. Junior center Ryan Young also had a nice game, coming off the bench to score 13 points, including 10 in the first half.
On the other sideline, Michigan saw a dominant performance from first-year forward Caleb Houstan, who led all scorers with 18 points and went three-for-five from downtown, and senior guard DeVante’ Jones, who scored 12 and served as a perfect facilitator, notching six assists on the day.
While it became a drag race in the second half, the two teams began the game simple enough, trading layups and the lead throughout the first period. Young and junior forward Robbie Beran led the way for the ’Cats, pushing pace with some key layups and deep shots; Young hit his first three-point shot of the season while Beran kept the ’Cats close as Michigan tried to build a lead, leaving a feeling of denial in the purple faithful watching at home.
After leading 34-31 at half, however, Michigan seemed keen to pull away early. The Wolverines went on a 16-9 run thanks to some excellent play from graduate guard Eli Brooks, and with 15 minutes to play, it looked as though the ’Cats might be once again dead in the water. ’Cats fans everywhere were experiencing the acceptance stage of grief.
Then, all of a sudden, Northwestern woke up. The ’Cats quickly put together an 11-1 run marked by unbelievable three-point shooting, with Boo Buie leading the way on the floor.
Inspired by their junior guard’s play, the team seemed to mimic his moves and find a way to pick up deep downtown shots. Coming off the bench, senior guard Ryan Greer found himself playing hero, making two unbelievable shots with the shot clock winding down to give the ’Cats their first lead of the second half.
The ’Cats would score 6 more points – capping the scoring run at a staggering 22-6 pace – and looked almost unstoppable with just five minutes to play. Wildcat fans across Evanston were bargaining with themselves and wondering, “Is this the one?”
Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. Michigan came out of the five-minute timeout with a vengeance, going on a 7-0 scoring run of their own to tie the game, punctuated by a slam dunk from first-year forward Moussa Diabate.
After a few more three-pointers from the Wolverines, it was all but over for the ’Cats as they desperately traded foul shots with the Maize and Blue over the final minutes. Despite one last gasp from Northwestern – with a shot from first-year Julian Roper II coming inches from glory – the Wildcats, once again, came up short, losing their third straight and seventh conference game.
Poor three-point defense and failure to make free throws haunted the ’Cats down the stretch. Northwestern made just 16 of their 26 free throws – a haunting stat, considering they lost by just two points. But perhaps more impactful was their downtown defense. They allowed Michigan to make eight of their 12 taken perimeter plays, a whopping two-thirds of shots taken. It gets worse, as down the stretch Northwestern lost the lead on two deep shots from the Wolverines.
In short, it was the same old story for Northwestern, which may lead to the disappointment of countless fans. Only time will tell.