The way Northwestern has been playing this season has them on the verge of dancing in March for the first time in the school’s history. And given the potential historic nature of this season, it seemed only appropriate that the World Series trophy make an appearance in front of a packed Welsh-Ryan Arena on Sunday night for Northwestern’s 68-55 victory over Indiana.
The Wildcats improved their record to 18-4 on the season. Northwestern has now won six straight and their 7-2 record in conference is their best start since 1938.
With another big conference win to go along with Purdue’s loss to Nebraska earlier in the day, there is a shot Northwestern cracks the Top-25 as early as this week. But success for a program that hasn’t experienced much of it of late can be a double-edged sword.
“It’s a fine line because I love that people are taking notice of what these guys are doing, I’m very proud of that. I’m very proud of the success so far, the team that we’ve started to become,” head coach Chris Collins said after the game. “Yet I know how much basketball we still need to play and I understand the fine line between winning and losing in this conference. And the moment you let in the outside chatter, the noise, you soften up the littlest bit, you get crashed down to reality really quick.”
Bryant McIntosh led the way for Northwestern with 21 points and eight assists. Sanjay Lumpkin had 15 points and Vic Law added nine points on a bad shooting night but also grabbed 12 rebounds.
Northwestern got off to a slow start, beginning the game shooting 0-for-7 as Indiana jumped out to an early 10-1 lead. Lumpkin finally broke the cold spell at the fifteen-minute mark of the first half sparking a 20-2 run that put Northwestern up for good as they held Indiana to 32% shooting and forced 13 turnovers.
“We really settled into the game and going into halftime we felt comfortable,” Lumpkin said. “We knew we were a little anxious at the beginning, but that’s just part of the atmosphere and going forward we know how important the starts of the game are.”
It is an atmosphere Northwestern will happily get used to being in as their support will continue to grow as the season wears on and games get bigger.
Thomas Bryant’s 23 points and 12 rebounds led the way for Indiana, playing without their leading scorer James Blackmon Jr., who is out indefinitely with a lower leg injury he sustained in Indiana’s 90-60 loss to Michigan earlier in the week.
The Wildcats play their biggest game of the season on Wednesday, on the road against Purdue.