Charboneau: Northwestern just can't catch a break

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Good teams have a way of making their own luck, but at this point it's getting hard not to feel for Northwestern and coach Chris Collins.

After last weekend's loss in the final seconds at Maryland — a game Northwestern led by 16 at one point and was in control of most of the way — even the opposing coach was feeling a bit like he was taking advantage of a snake-bitten team.

"They were so prepared for us and outplayed us for 361/2 minutes," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said after Dez Wells put in a rebound off a miss from Melo Trimble to give the Terrapins a 68-67 victory. "They have really good players, a really good coach and are probably ahead of schedule.

"It is not fun what Northwestern is going through. That was a hard handshake for me. ... They might have deserved to win the game and we gutted one out at home."

That might make Collins and his team feel a bit better, but considering the run they've been on the last few weeks, they want nothing more than to win.

Five straight losses all have come in heartbreaking fashion.

It started at Michigan State on Jan. 11 when Northwestern erased a double-digit deficit in the second half and Tre Demps had an open look for the win at the buzzer that missed. Michigan State won 84-77 in overtime.

Next came a five-point loss at home to Illinois followed by a 56-54 road setback to Michigan when freshman Bryant McIntosh missed a floater that would have tied the game.

Then came a 69-67 home loss to Ohio State, a game Northwestern led by 11 at one point.

And finally the loss to Maryland.

"I'm really happy with how my team is playing; we just don't have the results to show for it, which is really frustrating," Collins said. "It's a tough part of the process when you're trying to learn how to win.

"I know our guys know we're playing well, and not just well but really well. ... We're not playing low-level competition. We're playing the best of the best and our guys see we are competitive in all these games when we play well and we can compete in this league and it's possible to win. For us it's getting over that hump and closing the deal."

But Collins, a former assistant under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, will take little solace in the fact it's hard for everyone this season in the Big Ten. He is, after all, trying to turn around a program that knows only one thing — losing.

In fact, the Wildcats never have been to the NCAA Tournament, and with a 1-6 conference record, it doesn't look like that will change any time soon.

But, Turgeon believes it will, and Collins understands it's a painstaking process.

"No question it's my biggest challenge as a coach," Collins said. "My guys could not be giving me any more. They come every day, prepare great, play their hearts out, and I'm just sick for them that they haven't gotten the results I feel they deserve.

"That is the last step to take, to learn how to close the deal and win. It's tough going through it and hopefully we go to the next game in a position to win and hopefully you do it. That could lead to more."