Leads disappear on the road the way coins disappear in the hands of a magician. So when the Northwestern Wildcats watched an 18-point lead fade in the second half against the Baylor Bears Tuesday night, it wasn’t some big surprise.
The important thing for Northwestern, despite its efforts to try and give the game away in the closing minutes by not making free throws, is that it held on for a 74-70 victory.
In the end, it only matters that you win the game, and the Wildcats found a way to do that even as the pressure rose in a tough environment.
Northwestern is 7-2 and feeling good about itself after a big win on the road, the kind of win that will teach lessons and prepare a team for an opportunity to contend for a spot in the NCAA tournament.
The Wildcats could have been in trouble right out of the gate. They did miss nine of their first 10 shots. But they built a lead, including a 35-22 advantage at halftime, and held a comfortable lead at halftime before the Bears came roaring back life.
Northwestern was able to hang on, in part, because all five of its starters scored in double figures. Drew Crawford led the way, clicking for 19 points, while Reggie Hearn turned in a double-double, scoring 17 points and pulling down 10 rebounds.
Having that kind of balance, especially on the road, bodes well for the Wildcats going forward. They are going to need to be balanced if they want to survive the grind of the Big Ten. But the win also says a lot about the mental toughness of the Wildcats. They came into the game against Baylor stinging from two consecutive losses. It would have been easy to fold when the Bears began their rally.
Instead, Northwestern dug deep and found a way to win, and for a team hoping to earn a trip to the NCAA tourney for the first time in program history, it’s a good sign.
Brian Lester is a featured Big Ten columnist and college basketball writer for Rant Sports, and member of the USBWA . Follow him on Twitter @BLester1993 or send him an email at email@example.com.