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    Striving For Greatness

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    By Nikki Parsley

     

    Northwestern junior Nikki Parsley is currently competing for Team USA at the Four Nations Tournament in New Zealand. As her journey winds to a close, she checks in with another update.

     

    On the 22nd day of my trip "I Love It" by Icona Pop routinely flooded my ears. As the alarm sounded, I half consciously rolled out of bed, and noted that my legs ached, but only dully.  This was progress, because over the past few days my body had pleaded, on more than one occasion, that I stop the madness. 

     

    While I have certainly pushed myself physically throughout my field hockey career at Northwestern, playing at the international level requires a new level of fitness entirely. I have observed throughout the tournament that all of the top players in the world share something special in common: they are comfortable being uncomfortable. Even when they walk off the pitch after a 70-minute match, they never show signs of discomfort. While I realize that these women are all in unbelievable shape, I think that this is more of a mental skill than physical ability. This is an attitude that I desire to possess. In fact, this is a mentality I must possess to have success at this level. I am learning that the internal drive to push boundaries is one of the most powerful tools I can add to my arsenal.

     

    As I spent a significant amount of reflecting on this newfound understanding, I was reminded of a scene from "A League of Their Own." As cheesy as recalling this may be, it is the best way I can convey my thoughts.

     

    Jimmy Dugan: Dottie, if you want to go back to Oregon and make a hundred babies, great, I'm in no position to tell anyone how to live. But sneaking out like this, quitting, you'll regret it for the rest of your life. Baseball is what gets inside you. It's what lights you up, you can't deny that.

    Dottie Hinson: It just got too hard.

    Jimmy Dugan: It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.

     

    Calling international field hockey challenging is an understatement. But, Jimmy Dugan said it precisely: the hard is what makes it great. The hard pushes me to get up and fight through a mistake I have made too many times. The hard challenges me to make one more recovery sprint at the end of game eight. The hard is what fuels my desire to relentlessly chase the people at the top of the game. 

     

    I am convinced that I have yet to fully comprehend all that this trip has set in motion. I know that I am on the verge of something. Is it success or failure? This I do not know, but of something else I am certain - "I am ready to risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise, and dream more than others think is practical." This trip has reaffirmed my desire to make the national team and eventually represent my country at the Olympics. I am unbelievably thankful for this tour, because I now have a better understanding of what it takes to get where I want to go.

    Parsley Represents USA at Four Nations Tourney

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    By Nikki Parsley

     

    Greetings from New Zealand!

     

    Days after my first cap, as I try to recount my experience it is unbelievably difficult to capture the thoughts, feelings, and emotions I felt. Words will never do justice this experience.

     

    On April 10, 2013 at 5:30 p.m., I stepped onto a field hockey pitch in New Zealand wearing a red, white, and blue jersey. While the scene felt vaguely familiar, there was an unprecedented excitement coursing through my body. Unlike any other game I had previously competed in, the stakes were much higher, the players on the field were some of the top in the world, and I got to represent my country at the highest level possible. This benchmarked a point in my career I had been working towards for as long as I can remember.

     

    As I stood at the center of the field anticipating the starting whistle, I began to understand the magnitude of the game. Not only was this my first cap, but we also were playing the second-ranked team in the world, and one of our biggest rivals, Argentina. In a brief moment it hit me that I was standing on the same turf as the players I frequently searched on Google and YouTube.

     

    It was then that I realized my mentality had to change. These people were no longer abstract players running around on a computer screen, but opponents I was tasked with defending and attacking. A few moments later the whistle sounded and players took off in separate directions across the field. For the next 70 minutes I sprinted around and barely had time to catch a breath. The pace of the game was faster than any speed I had ever played at before, which demanded quicker reactions. Although I was physically tired, I was more mentally exhausted at the end of the game.  I learned quickly that playing at this level means you have to be mentally checked in at all times.

     

    This game was the most exhilarating, yet exhausting match I had ever been apart of. Although we lost 3-0, and I realized that I have room to improve my physical and mental skill sets, I absolutely loved every second of playing at the international level. I have always dreamt of representing my country on the national team, but I had no idea that it would be this amazing. 

     

    Put simply: I have never been more excited to play field hockey.

     

    While this trip has sparked a new excitement and love for the game, I have also been absorbing as much information as possible. Being surrounded by six Olympians and an experienced coaching staff is invaluable. One of my favorite parts of the tour has been listening and learning from their experiences and advice. Needless to say, I have been busy scribbling down lots of notes that I will carry with me wherever I go.

     

    With the first Four Nations tournament coming to a close, and the next series about to start in a few hours, I am excited to take the field again.  We open with Korea at 5 p.m. Wednesday (12:00 a.m. Central Time).

    GO USA!

    Fuel Up to Play 60 with Reggie Hearn

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    By Jocelyn Vinoya Serranilla

     

     

    Reggie Hearn must have anticipated the crowd's reaction to his bold declaration on his eating habits growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Hearn, who has been fearless in adversity on the basketball court, finishing last season as the leading scorer on the Wildcats' men's basketball team, brought the same bold and fearless demeanor at River Trails Middle School when he challenged his audience to eat right, get enough sleep and stay active. 

     

    "I'm like a lot of you, guys. My mom always taught me to eat Brussels sprouts and all those green vegetables," Hearn declared. The crowd erupted, "Awwww! Brussels sprouts!"

     

    Unabashed by the uproar, Hearn continued to press his case for a healthy lifestyle to the sixth, seventh and eighth graders who have packed the school gym in suburban Mt. Prospect on Friday, April 12. "Yeah! I was like, "Uh! Brussels sprouts!" He said he reacted the same way when his mom used to feed him veggies but admitted "those green vegetables really helped me. I've been eating right and that helped me become the player that I am today."

     

    His transformation from a walk-on his freshman year to starter and scholarship player his junior year, Hearn acknowledged his success as a collective effort. "There are a lot of people who remind me to eat right. We have a nutritionist at Northwestern who is helping me out, reminding me to eat my vegetables, to eat breakfast. Sometimes I just want to eat ice cream, but that's not good for me as an athlete." Hearn also reminded the kids to get enough sleep as part of their health regimen. "That's going to help you stay healthy in the long run."

                                        

    Hearn's visit kicked off a morning assembly at the suburban middle school where students and teachers danced, hula-hooped, jumped rope, played volleyball and basketball, ate fresh green salads and participated in games geared towards creating awareness to a healthy lifestyle. It was a day dedicated to Fuel Up to Play 60, a nationwide program sponsored by the National Dairy Council and the National Football League to help prevent childhood obesity, encouraging participants to make healthy food choices, to stay active and exercise for at least 60 minutes a day.  

     

    Hearn's bubbly personality won over his audience and by the time he announced, "I think I'm sticking around for a while, so let's fuel up to play 60," most kids, both boys and girls have milled around him, jumping to high-five the Wildcats' recipient of the Big Ten's Sportsmanship Award for 2012-13, and asking him questions mostly about how tall he was and who his favorite NBA player was.  Hearn's 6-foot-4-inch, 210-pound frame was all the middle school students needed as proof that eating vegetables must really work.

     

    From the general assembly, the students broke up in smaller stations in various classrooms, which Hearn each visited.  He gave them a glimpse of how much he enjoyed his fruits and vegetables at the school cafeteria where he munched on chopped broccoli, spinach, lettuce, apples, tomatoes and onions as students stood in line with pens and papers asking for his autograph.  The nutritionist sensed his magical effect on the kids. "Ask them to eat butternut squash," she whispered while handing him a cup of chopped salad.  Hearn obliged to the nutritionist's request, at which point he turned to his captive audience, "eat butternut squash and I'll give you my autograph."  All the kids were undeterred by the trade-off challenge of butternut-squash-for-Reggie Hearn-autograph. No one left the line.

     

    All morning at RTMS, Hearn not only declared, "I'm excited to be here," but showed it in everything he did with the kids. He sashayed on the dance floor, arms up in the air as he made his way into the music room where students and teachers danced to the beat of Katy Perry's "California Gurls." There were giggles all around, energizing the room even more.

     

    Hearn was the second Northwestern Wildcat student-athlete to grace Fuel Up to Play 60 at River Trails. Former basketball standout John Shurna helped kick-off the school's inaugural program last year. School principal Keir Rogers quipped during his introduction of Hearn, "I like basketball, obviously!" 

     

    Rogers lauded Hearn's accomplishments as a walk-on. "I don't know him personally but he must have resolute toughness because he eventually earned a scholarship. Most student-athletes are recruited and offered scholarships but this student-athlete walked on, meaning he tried out for the team, which is not easy to do in the Big Ten."

     

    Rogers, himself a former basketball player, urged the students to talk to Hearn. "Go ahead, ask him questions, ask him about being a student-athlete because it's very important that you look up to people like Reggie and say, 'You know what, I aspire to do something great like what he's doing right now.' He's in school, he's doing something beyond basketball."

     

    Hearn's sprouts have truly blossomed on and off the basketball court.

    Collins Takes the Reins

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    NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski was on hand Tuesday as new Northwestern head men's basketball coach Chris Collins was introduced to the media.

     

     

    The father, as a player, had performed always with a fire burning in his belly, and it remained there still even after he retired and was doing little more than facing off against his young son in their family's driveway. He would roughly jostle the boy there in their games of one-on-one, he would mercilessly drill the boy there in their games of H-O-R-S-E, and never, ever, would he concede and let the boy win.

     

    "But you're supposed to let me win," the boy would whine after many of those games.

     

    "Your first instinct as a parent is to protect your son," the father would once say, thinking back on those moments. "But life's not that way. You get bumped. You fall down. And the measure of a man is how you handle hurdles in life."

     

    The boy, even then, was undaunted by life's many hurdles and so he stayed after his dad, stayed after him ardently and finally beat him when he was a blossoming 14 years-old. "I was trying to hold him. But my (once injured) leg (which ended his career) wouldn't go," the father, Doug Collins, would remember of that moment.

     

    "It was fierce," remembered the boy, new 'Cat basketball coach Chris Collins. "He wasn't about to give over the reins. There were some elbows thrown. It was pretty ugly. It was a great moment. He was pretty mad. . . But I'm glad (he raised me that way). I think that just made me real competitive as a young kid, and ever since then I've loved challenges. Some people have said, 'He can't do this.' 'He's too small.' 'He's too slow.' 'He can't really jump.' I look at all those things as challenges, but I've always been pretty confident in my own abilities. Not to the point of being cocky. But I've always believed in my ability to do things. I just try to go out and not prove people wrong. But to show people I can do it."

     

     

    ******

     

     

    Those memories were offered up over a decade ago, back when Chris Collins was a callow freshman guard at Duke. Yet they aptly explicate the foundation of the 38-year old man who was officially introduced as Bill Carmody's successor on Tuesday at a press conference at Welsh-Ryan Arena. "The guys will find out, it's going to be tough work," he said there at one point, testifying to that truth. "We're going to get after it on the court. Anyone who knows my personality knows that's who I've always been as a player and as a coach. We're going to have to step up and compete. We're not going to back down."

     

    "I understand there's a lot of work to be done," he more tellingly said at another point. "I'm not afraid of that. I'm a competitor. When I went to Glenbrook North (where he was named Illinois Mr. Basketball as a senior), they'd never done anything in basketball. People wanted me to go to other high schools because they didn't think I could win there. We started a culture there and it became one of the best basketball programs on the North Shore and still is to this day. Certainly when I went to Duke it was already established. But I had to go through tough times there as well. My junior year, Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) got sick (and didn't coach the second half of the season) and we went from the national championship game to last place in one year. Then my senior year, we had a group of guys, we had to dig down and get the program going again.

     

    "So I'm not afraid of the work that needs to be done. I'm ultra-competitive. I'm passionate about what I do. To me, in life, if you love doing something, you want people to know about it. I know when I played, I was real energetic on the court, and some people liked it and some people didn't. But I always wanted the world to know I loved what I was doing. It's no different in coaching. I love coaching. . .(and) we're going to build a winner. I'm confident. I'm excited. But I also know it's going to take work. I'm not afraid of the work I'm going to have to do to get this thing going. I'm in it for the long haul."

     

     

    ******

     

     

    His experience stretches beyond Duke, where he was an assistant for the last 13 years. That is one thing to remember about Chris Collins, who also played in Finland, assisted Nancy Lieberman in the WNBA and served on Krzyzewski's staff while the latter guided the U.S. men to gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2010 World Championships and the 2012 London Olympics. That explains why, on Tuesday, his father would say, "He's ready. He's ready to roll. He's been ready for awhile. If you guys had the chance to see him with the U.S. Olympic team and see him coaching the pros, and the opportunities that Coach K has given him-- the thing that Coach K has done along the way, not only has he developed these guys as men, but as an assistant coach, you coach. You don't just recruit. You're on the floor coaching. That sometimes gets lost in the, 'Well, he's never been a head coach.' Well, nor was I when I came to Chicago at 36 (to take over as coach of the Bulls). Somebody's got to give you your first opportunity. Dr. (Jim) Phillips (the 'Cat AD) and Mr. (Morty) Shapiro (the school president) have given him that opportunity, and I know he's going to run with it."

     

    He is also a realist. That is one more thing to remember about Chris Collins, who knows full well that many have opined that the 'Cat facilities have hampered their quest for basketball success. "My goal for Welsh-Ryan is let's make it a heck of a home-court advantage," he would say Tuesday. "Let's get these seats packed. Let's get everybody wearing purple. Let's see what it's like when you have 8,000-plus people in here going crazy for Northwestern basketball. . . If you walk into Cameron Indoor Stadium (Duke's playpen), no one goes in there and talks about how state-of-the-art it is. You talk about the atmosphere because of the people that are in it, and the hunger of the crowd, and the excitement. That's what we have to build. We have to put a product on the floor the people are going to be excited about."

     

    He is, in addition, a pragmatist. This is one more thing to remember about Chris Collins, who was taught by the master basketball minds of both his father and Mike Krzyzewski. "One thing I believe about coaching is you should tailor what you do based on your personnel," he would say Tuesday, echoing the approach of those mentors. "I will create a system that I feel is going to benefit the pieces we have. I don't believe in having a strict system you plug guys into year-after-year. That's not how I coach. I want to showcase my star players, my best players. I want to put them in a position to be successful, and then complement them with the right pieces."

     

    He is, finally, just where he wants to be. That is the final thing to remember about Chris Collins, whose emotions were palpable enough on Tuesday that his voice sometimes cracked as he answered questions. "It's a dream come true," he said at one of those moments. "To be in basketball my whole life and to now be sitting up here as the head coach of Northwestern of the Big Ten, the highest level of college basketball, it's pretty overwhelming-- in a good way. I just think how hard I've worked to get here. It's a special day, for sure. . .

     

    "You may all talk about going to the NCAA Tournament and those things and, sure, that's going to be a great milestone when we get there. But my goal is to build a top-notch basketball program. I want to be here for a long, long time. It's exciting for me to put my imprint on this university, on this school. It's an exciting day. It's a good day. It's a good day. I'm really excited to be here and I can't wait to get to work."

     

     

    ******

     

     

    The father, on Tuesday, is reminded of those games they played so long ago on the family's driveway, and he smiles. "He's a competitor. He's been around a competitive dad. He's always been in a competitive environment," Doug Collins then says. "I never let him beat me in horse or any of those games. To me, that's false praise and to me false praise sometimes is much more deadly than the truth. Because kids start thinking this is the way it is when the truth is, 'You know what, you've got a long way to go.' I mean, if Chris were afraid of challenges, he never would have gone to Duke. Everyone said he would never play at Duke. But he went down there, scored a thousand-something points, started on a Final Four team, became the bridge with the other guys when Coach K got sick to get them back to the NCAA Tournament, and then sat next to Coach K for 13 years. So he's been around competitiveness, and that's what this is about."

     

    The son also smiles when reminded of those games. "It made me the competitor I am," Chris Collins then says. "He never let me win at anything. That was a lesson. So you know when you win, you've earned it. So even though I didn't know it, and I was crying a lot and was upset, it feels that much better when you win because you know nothing was given to you."

     

    And did those games help prepare him for his new challenge here?

     

    "Absolutely," he finally says. "I feel, I've been so fortunate my whole life to be around basketball and great coaches and players, everything I've learned has prepared me for this day. Now it's on me to take it and run with it."

    A Look Ahead - Big Ten Tournament

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    NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski offers up a look at this week's Big Ten tournament at the United Center. Northwestern faces Iowa in opening-round contest at approximately 8 p.m. Thursday.

     

     

    * Iowa began the eight-game losing streak the 'Cats carry into the United Center, where Thursday they face the Hawkeyes in the opening-round of the Big Ten tourney. Still, says point Dave Sobolewski, "We're playing better than we had previously, so I think we're ready. The morale should be OK. We've got nothing to lose and we should be ready to go."

     

    "I think the guys are in a pretty good spot, actually, considering that we've lost all these games in a row," echoes his coach, Bill Carmody. "They seem pretty good to me."

     

     

    * In that 14-point defeat, which came back on Feb. 9 in Iowa City, his guys were down just a pair when forward Jared Swophsire suffered the knee injury that ended his season. This was a brutal blow to the 'Cats, who were already without Drew Crawford (shoulder) and JerShon Cobb (suspension), and now again they had to adjust both their mindset and their style of play. Emotion carried them through their next affair, an estimable effort in a 10-point loss at Ohio State, but then reality took over and now came a 21-point loss to Illinois at home, a 28-point loss to Wisconsin at home and a 31-point loss at Purdue. "Those first couple of games after we lost Swop were tough," Sobolewski recalls when asked about the learning curve the 'Cats faced after he went down. "Having lost our third major contributor for the year was definitely a challenge for us."

     

    "Defensively is where we mostly had to learn," picks up Alex Marcotullio, the senior guard. "He was basically the anchor of our defense. He was a big-time communicator and he made plays for others. He helped out in different situations. He brought a toughness and mentality to the game. He brought a lot of leadership and character and experience after playing in the Big East for four years and under a great coach (Rick Pitino) at Louisville. That was another thing we missed. His toughness and energy and the little plays that he made."

     

    "I think a lot of it after Swop was learning how to fight, how to fight harder," concludes senior guard Reggie Hearn. "Obviously we're undermanned and a lot of times we have a size disadvantage, so we've got to make up for what we lack in the physical area with our heart, with our toughness. I think we're starting to do that. I really liked what I saw from the freshmen in the game against Michigan State (last Sunday). I really thought they played hard, showed a lot of fight, showed a lot of toughness, a lot of heart, a lot of grit. That really helped us out as a team and hopefully that'll carry us forward well into the tournament."

     

     

    * The Spartan game, a 10-point loss on the road that was closer than that, followed similarly narrow losses to Ohio State and Penn State at home. "I think guys are starting to understand what we need to do now to still be competitive," says Sobolewski, which is one reason he can realistically say the 'Cats morale should be OK. Another is the recent improvement of redshirt freshman Tre Demps and true freshmen Alex Olah and Kale Abrahamson. None, to be clear, is yet a finished product. But Demps did have 11 points in East Lansing despite hitting just one of his six three-point attempts. And the 7-foot Olah did have a dunk among the 10 points he scored that same afternoon. And Abrahamson not only had a team-high 16 that day. He also grabbed four rebounds to run his total to 17 over the last three games. "I've been trying to hit the boards a lot more in the last few games especially because I know we need rebounds," he will say when asked about that last stat. "We're pretty small and there's a lot of big teams in the Big Ten. So I'm trying to make up for those rebounds Swop got."

     

    "I liked the way we played Michigan State at their place, especially the freshmen," even Carmody will say. "They all played pretty nicely, which was good to see."

     

     

    *Here are two more reasons the 'Cats can feel OK about themselves. They collected one-more rebound than the Spartans, whose rebounding margin on the season is +6.8. (The 'Cats is -6.5.) And they stood up to the Spartans, who are always tougher than a cheap cut of beef. "It gives us a lot more confidence," Hearn will say of that performance against the No. 10 Spartans. "Back during that stretch when we had 20-plus point losses in three straight games, that's tough. That can wear on you mentally. The way we've fought back, even though we've lost games, we've been in some close games now, and to play against a team like Michigan State and play that well shows us that we still have something left in us, that we can still play with a lot of teams in the country. That gives us some confidence going forward in the tournament."

     

     

    * To go forward, of course, the 'Cats must first beat Iowa, which not only toppled them in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes also left Welsh-Ryan with a 20-point win back on Jan. 13. "They try to beat us up inside, which is a big focus of ours," Sobolewski says when asked why they have been so nettlesome an opponent. "We've got to match their physicality in there. We feel if we do that and rebound, we'll be OK."

     

    "Iowa's just a physical team, especially in their rebounding and their defense," adds Hearn. "They kind of chuck the cutters, they hit the boards really hard, and those are things we struggle with as a team from time to time. So we've got to expect that and push through it."

     

    "They do a lot of different stuff," concludes Carmody. "They'll play man, they'll play 2-3 zone, they press full court, three-quarter court, which caused us problems against Penn State. They throw a lot of stuff at you and you have to be ready for it and not have any possessions when you're a little screwed up and don't get the shots you want."

     

     

    * And finally, Hearn: "We feel we don't have that much to lose. That's dangerous, when you have a team like that."

    The Morning After - Penn State

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    NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski takes a look back at the Northwestern men's basketball team's Senior Night matchup against Penn State on Thursday.

     

     

    Alex Marcotullio will serve as the symbol for the 'Cats Thursday loss to Penn State. This was Senior Night, his final appearance at Welsh-Ryan Arena, and through so much of the evening he shone brilliantly. He put in 34 minutes, the most he has played in any game over the last two seasons. He dropped six of his nine field goal attempts, all of them threes, went four-of-four from the line, and ended his display with a game-high and a career-high 22 points. He, most memorably catalyzed his team in the belly of this affair's second half, hitting five-of-his-six shots in this span and carrying it from 12 down to one up in just over eight minutes.

     

    But there were also his five turnovers, one of them late and fatal to the 'Cats chances. "It's about time something started going in," he said later when asked about his 66.6 percent shooting. "I've struggled all year and it was nice seeing some go through the basket. But too many turnovers. I think that was the deciding factor in the game. Those are possessions lost and points lost. I blame myself. What did I have? Five? That's crazy."

     

    ******

     

    That was just the kind of night it was for the 'Cats, who were an inconsistent mix of good and bad. Once again they started poorly, falling behind by a dozen after committing five turnovers and missing all four of their shots in the game's first five minutes. "We knew they were going to press, a little three-quarter court press, and I just thought we were careless," Bill Carmody would say of the Nittany Lion tactic that bedeviled his team through this stretch. "We were throwing the ball to trapping spots right over half-court, which you don't want to do without moving the ball from side-to-side first. Give them credit. But I thought there was a little combination of that (Senior Night) emotion and a little carelessness."

     

    "We just didn't handle it well," echoed the senior guard Reggie Hearn. "We knew they were going to play that 1-2-2 trap and we didn't execute as we had in practice. We were careless with the ball."

     

    Still, starting with a three from the freshman Kale Abrahamson, they willfully began to scale this hole they had dug for themselves, and just three minutes later they were back to within one after Marcotullio hit the first of his half-dozen threes. But now, on consecutive possessions, came a turnover by Hearn, a turnover by center Mike Turner, a turnover by point Dave Sobolewski, and like that were were back down by seven. Now again they stirred themselves, forging a tie at 26 less than four minutes later, yet here they floundered once more and found themselves down four as this first half finally ended.

     

    "First half I could see. There was emotion to senior night. The second half, it wasn't good," Carmody would later say, and this is why. His team started that half as poorly as it had the game and, with just over five minutes of it gone, the 'Cats were  again down a dozen.

     

    ******

     

    The first one came from just this side of his team's bench and pulled the 'Cats to within nine at 14:32. The next, after a miss, was straight on and came less then two minutes later. Suddenly they were within five and Alex Marcotullio was afire, and here one came from the right wing and another from the right corner and the final one from the left corner that put his team up a point at 6:15. Now Nittany Lion guard D.J. Newbill was called for an offensive foul and here, with the ball, the 'Cats turned to Hearn. "We ran a nice, little cut. Reggie had a nice cut," Carmody would later recall. "The ball was delivered a little late by our center, he bobbled it, didn't get (the layup), they came down and scored. From then, we were never again able to quite get over the hump."

     

    From then, in fact, from that moment of Marcotullio's final three, the 'Cats were never able to find the basket, missing their next 10 field goal attempts before getting a meaningless layup from Tre Demps with four seconds remaining. Their defense buckled through this stretch as well, the Nittany Lions successfully attacking their zone down low, but still, still, their deficit was only six as Marcotullio handled the ball in front of his team's bench. Another three from him would halve that margin, but here he offered a pass to Sobolewski in the right corner that was picked by Newbill with 1:18 remaining. "We were trying to get a quick look for me, I guess," Marcotullio later explained. "I up faked and I thought the guy was going to run at me. He made a nice play and stuck in the passing lane."

     

    ******

     

    Earlier, after he had fouled out with his team down four and 3:07 remaining, Reggie Hearn was accompanied by a standing ovation as he walked slowly to the bench for the last time at Welsh-Ryan. "I was a little (teed) off, so I didn't give it a whole lot of credence to it," he would later say when asked about that moment. "I heard it in the back of my head and it felt good. But at that point. . .I was thinking of how we could pull it out. I'm sure I would have appreciated it more if I'd been going out on a good note and I'm sure it'll sink in after the game now and I'll appreciate what the fans did for me. But at the time, I was (teed) off."

     

    Now, after his turnover, the 'Cats began fouling and the Nittany Lions made their free throws and the game was lost, and so here Omar Jimenez replaced him and Alex Marcotullio also received a standing ovation as he made his own last walk to the Welsh-Ryan bench with 10 seconds remaining. "It hurts. I wanted to go out on top here and sadly that's not the case," he would soon say. "But I left everything out there, and so did Reg and everyone else. I'm just happy to be part of this great program and university."

    The Morning After - Ohio State

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    NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski offers up his look back at Thursday night's contest between Northwestern and No. 16/15 Ohio State at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

     

     

    They had never led through a languid first half and now, just over a minute into the second, the 'Cats were down 11 to No. 16 Ohio State. They looked here like a contender whose knees had been buckled by a champ's quick flurry, yet they kept their feet and regained their balance and not only refused to go down. They also responded with a flurry of their own.

               

    The first punch came from point Dave Sobolewski, who dropped a three from the left wing, and the second came from freshman forward Kale Abrahamson, who shot faked, got his defender in the air and drove the lane for a layup. Now came a Tre Demps three from the right wing, a Demps backdoor layup off a pass from center Alex Olah and a pair of Demps free throws that pulled the 'Cats to within two at 15:30.

     

    They had been battered in their last three outings, losing each by at least 21, but they had fight in them yet on this Thursday night at Welsh-Ryan, where now it was suddenly game on. The Buckeyes would go up four, would go up six, but back came the 'Cats, taking their first lead of the night after a layup by Demps and a layup by Reggie Hearn and an off-balance, falling-away three by Abrahamson just before the shot clock expired.

     

    "I liked the way we battled back, went ahead," Bill Carmody would later say, but now it was Ohio State's turn to do that and 88 seconds later they were up four. Yet again the 'Cats kept their feet, yet again the 'Cats regained their balance, yet again the 'Cats not only refused to go down. They also responded with another flurry of their own. First came an Abrahamson tip of an Olah miss. Next came a conventional three-point play from Olah. Then finally came a Hearn three from the left wing that pushed his team up one at 4:13.

     

    ******

     

    When this one opened, everyone knew what the 'Cats must do if they hoped to succeed. They would have to start better than they had in their last three defeats. They would have to shoot better than they had in those defeats. They would have to run their offense better than they had in those defeats, and rebound better than they had all season.

     

    This was asking a bunch from a group so battered by adversity for so long. But on this night they ignored the long odds against them and, from the start, offered a far different vision than they had over the previous 11 days. They did fall behind the Bucks by as much as 11 in the first half. "But," Sobolewski later said, "the good thing was we didn't let it spiral out of hand. We kept it under 10 and, whenever a game's under 10, you never know what might happen. We hit some big shots, we rebounded, we defended and just went from there. As long as we can keep it close, that's what we need to do at the start. We can't let it get out of hand like we have been."

     

    They did trail the Bucks by seven at first half's end. But in their locker room, Carmody would recall, "We said we think if we stay with our stuff, we can get shots we want. It might be with eight seconds left, or 12 seconds (on the shot clock), but you're going to get some pretty good looks. We went with a couple pet plays (at the start of the second half), got some open looks, knocked them down."

     

    They did get out-rebounded by the Bucks in the first half. But the margin was small, just 18-14. They did not shoot particularly well in the first half. But they dropped four of their 10 three-point attempts and that was enough to keep them close. They did not get much from the bottom part of their lineup in the first half. But--and this was not unimportant--that would change in the final 20 minutes.

     

    Abrahamson was certainly transformed in those minutes, which he infused with energy, grit, all of his nine points and six of his game-high nine rebounds (three of them offensive, which was more than any Buckeye collected). Olah, too, was more active in the second half, and ended his night with nine points and five rebounds and a team-high four assists. Then always there were Demps (14 points) and Sobolewski (13), a pair with motors that roared through the night and never tired even as they played huge minutes (36 for Demps, 38 for Sobolewski). "A lot of different guys contributed, which was good to see," Carmody would later say.

     

    ******

     

    It was a lot of guys, in fact, who helped push the 'Cats to their late one-point lead,  but again Ohio State came back, this time with a three from Lenzelle Smith, Jr. Now the ball was in the hands of the 6-foot-4 Hearn, who was doubled by a pair of 6-foot-7 Buckeyes, and one of them, Sam Thompson, kicked it loose, and suddenly they were up four after a foul line jumper by Aaron Craft. One more time the 'Cats set up their offense and one more time they committed a turnover, Smith picking off a Demps' pass to Olah.

     

    This one was not damaging, Thompson missing a pair of free throws in its wake. But then, for the third straight possession, the 'Cats turned it over, Scott Shannon stripping Olah from behind and feeding Thomas for the layup that pushed the Bucks' lead to six at 1:58. "Shannon Scott (who finished with four steals) was tremendous tonight," his coach, Thad Matta, would later say. "He was reading things, timing it up. We felt like we knew where they were going and that was probably the difference. We were able to turn them over 15 times (on the night)."

     

    "Their defense," echoed Carmody, "anticipated some stuff, got steals and run outs. The steals weren't just steals and possessions, but steals and fast breaks or run outs at the other end. We just turned it over a few times at the wrong time."

     

    Time, now, would finally run out on the 'Cats, who only now could not find a response. They were instead forced to foul and the Buckeyes made their free throws and eventually escaped with a misleading 10-point win. "We hadn't been playing competitive basketball, so it was certainly time," Carmody would later say when asked about his team's performance. "I think the effort's there and the guys are trying and I think they'll get better. It was good to see."

     

    "It was a lot of fun to play in a competitive game, but that's not what we play for," Sobolewski soon concluded. "We come into every game trying to win and we didn't do that tonight. I think we played all right. We played a lot better tonight than we have been, which is nice. But we didn't win."

    The Weather Man Isn't Always Right

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    Snow is spitting from the sky and, down below, slush pockmarks the landscape. But this inconvenient reality does not matter. On the Kirby-Flanagan Indoor Practice Field inside the Nicolet Football Center, the 'Cats are about to wrap up their second spring practice of the winter. "It's awesome. It's great stuff. It's great to be in football in February," Pat Fitzgerald will say when it is finally over...

    A Look Ahead - Ohio State

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    NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski previews the Northwestern men's basketball team's home game against Ohio State on Thursday.

     

     

    * The intellect of Holmes is not needed to analyze the 'Cats Thursday night meeting with Ohio State at Welsh-Ryan. To succeed, they must trust their offense. To succeed, they must make shots. To succeed, they must defend with vigor. To succeed, they must do the dirty work on the boards.

     

    Oh. And a decent start would help as well.

     

    * Sunday night at Purdue, for the third straight game, the 'Cats missed shots early and quickly fell into a hole. (In this case, 11 points.) Then, to the Scribbler's eye, they appeared to stray from their offense and looked to make that proverbial eight-point play that would quickly get them back into the fray. "Yeah. I felt the same way," point Dave Sobolewski said Wednesday when we mentioned this to him. "Whenever we get down, the only way we're going to get back in the game is with defense and running through our offense. We're not a one-on-one type team. We never will be with the guys we've got. So the only way we're going to score a lot of points is by running through our stuff, staying sharp, moving from one thing to the next, and making hard cuts. When we break out of our offense, things don't go well. So that's a focus here. I think that's been one of our problems the last few games."

     

    "Definitely," forward Kale Abrahamson added when the same thought was presented to him. "It's hard when you're down. Everyone wants to make a play right away, and the way the offense is structured, it's not structured score in the first five, 10 seconds (of the shot clock). It's almost like you have to calm yourself down. You're down that much, but you have to calm yourself down and play with the principles we've been playing with all year."

     

    "I agree with that. We talked about that after the game," Bill Carmody concluded when he heard that impression. "You had some nice looks early, you missed them, all of a sudden you're down early and you want to get back, so you take a quick shot. Now they get it again. So, yeah, I think that's exactly right on. You have to let the offense work for you. The game's not over in the first five minutes, so don't try to get it all back at one time."

     

    * The 'Cat defense, one of their calling cards early, has also been less that stellar during their five-game losing streak. This is why we wondered if it is effected when the offense is struggling so. "Yeah. I think definitely it effects your defense," said Carmody. "For one thing, their offense becomes better. They know, 'Oh, man, these guys can't score.' So there's less pressure on a shot being made or missed. They're combined. They're like pistons. If one's going good, then the other one goes good. Or bad, bad."

     

    Then your bad defense puts even more pressure on your offense.

     

    "Yeah. Yeah. It's one game. It's still one game. . . When you're missing shots, at all levels, you see it in the NBA, it's harder and harder to defend."

     

    * The 'Cats were last around at the end of a game during their Valentine Day visit to Columbus, where the Buckeyes didn't put them away until they closed with a late run. "I think we showed great toughness in that game. That's probably what's been missing the past whatever games since then," Abrahamson would say when asked what they could take from that performance. "Toughness and a will-to-win. There were only nine of us that game and 14, 15,000 people against us. So it was kind of us against the world. If we bring that same mentality, even though were playing at home, that'll help a lot."

     

    "We definitely need to get tougher," Sobolewski later agreed. "I think a lot of it is up to the individual as opposed to the, the coaches can't just make a guy tougher. It's up to the individual and his mindset and how he's going to attack the game. It's more mental the physical. We're not going to be able to go lift weights for a week and get tougher. It's a mental game right now. We know we've got to go get every rebound and not get pushed around."

     

    But is it possible the 'Cats are mentally worn out after combatting adversity for so long?

     

    "I wouldn't say we're mentally worn out," Sobolewski demurred. "It's definitely been a long season with a lot of ups-and-downs. But we've only got a couple weeks left here and hopefully we can push through that and come out with a couple wins and compete."

               

    *And finally, Sobolewski, on the 'Cats situation: "We've got nothing to lose, so we should really be having a lot of fun. There's no pressure on us for anything. So hopefully we can just go out there, give it our all and have some fun."

    Volunteer Assistants Make Full Time Impact

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    As I was going through the post-game high-fives with Tennessee this weekend in Palm Springs, I noticed a familiar face perched on the grass hill down the right field line. She was all decked out in her USSSA Pride gear, but I'd know her silhouette anywhere. It wasn't too long ago that I stepped on campus as a freshman 3,000 miles away from home, and Lauren Lappin was our volunteer assistant coach.