Northwestern continues to change the narrative with win over Indiana

EVANSTON, IL - JANUARY 29: Northwestern Wildcats center Barret Benson (25) dunks in the first half during a game between the Indiana Hoosiers and the Northwestern Wildcats on January 29, 2017, at the Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, IL. (Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

EVANSTON – A palpable buzz is always flowing when the opposing side of the scoreboard reads “Indiana” at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

That didn’t change on Sunday, but something else did. This time that atmosphere was fueled by the power of purple instead of the invading crush of Cream and Crimson.

“Walking out right before the game and seeing all the purple and seeing the student section and seeing people excited,” said Northwestern head coach Chris Collins when he stepped on the floor Sunday to the host the Hoosiers. “It felt like big-time basketball.”

That’s because the Wildcats are continuing to play as such, heating up a new narrative about the program on a chilly night in January.

While it wasn’t the Big Ten rattling upset it might have a been a month before, considering Indiana’s injury troubles, Northwestern showed March poise in beating the Hoosiers 68-55 on Sunday night. They started strong and finished the same to 18-4 overall and 7-2 in Big Ten conference play.

The complete victory is another NCAA Tournament resume builder for the team, but for guard Bryant McIntosh the triumph further helps change the narrative of an often downtrodden program.

“Going in each and every day and understanding what everyone thinks of this program and kind of allowing that to be a little bit of a fire in our bellies,” said the guard, who had plenty of reasons to fire up for Sunday’s contest.

A native of New Castle, Indiana, McIntosh took it to his homestate school with one of his better performances of the season. He knocked down 7-of-13 shots from the field for a team-high 21 points that included eight assists.

With McIntosh’s help the Wildcats jumped out to a 12-points first half lead on Indiana, who was playing without leading scorer James Blackmon Jr who suffered a low leg injury against Michigan on Thursday. The Wildcats never let the Hoosiers up, keeping them behind by double digits the rest of the second half en route to the victory.

It’s a triumph that puts the Wildcats in sole possession of third place in the conference with arguably their biggest stretch of the conference season coming up. Three of their next four games are against ranked teams – at #20 Purdue Wednesday, at #15 Wisconsin Feb. 12th, vs #22 Maryland Feb. 15th.

Victories in any of those games, like the one they got on Sunday, would put the Wildcats ever closer to that elusive first NCAA Tournament berth.

“We always find a little something for each game that keeps us grounded,” said Northwestern forward Sanjay Lumpkin, who chipped in 15 points in the victory. “Just to make sure we’re all on the same page and have an empty mind with just the game we’re playing at that current moment.”

Wins like the one on Sunday, however, will fill the brains of college basketball fans with a new narrative about the new look program in Evanston.