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No late magic for Northwestern as disappointing season ends at the Big Ten Tournament

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 01: Bryant McIntosh #30 of the Northwestern Wildcats shakes head coach Chris Collins of the Northwestern Wildcats' hand while exiting the court after his final college game during the second round of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 1, 2018 in New York City (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

NEW YORK – When you’re only 12 months removed from one of the greatest runs in the history of the program, still featuring a number of the players who made that happen, there is always a hope some of the magic still exists.

Yes, Northwestern was with guard Vic Law and fellow guard Bryant McIntosh was banged up. A run all the way through the tournament would be the only way that the Wildcats season would be continued since they struggled so much in the follow-up season following their first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history.

Still, maybe there was a hope the team would find themselves for one major weekend in New York. The team even referenced the famous 1983 NC State team that won nine-straight games through the ACC and NCAA Tournament en route to a title.

Those were dreams with 2017 in mind. Unfortunately for Chris Collins’ team, the norm in 2018 continued.

Tenth-seeded Northwestern went punch-for-punch with seventh-seeded Penn State in the first game of their Big Ten Tournament Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, but their finish left something to be desired. The Nittany Lions, who are fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives, outscored the Wildcats 17-3 in the final 4:33 of the game in a 65-57 defeat.

Their elimination from the Big Ten Tournament likely ends their season, with an NIT bid unlikely with a final record of 15-17. Hopes that were high for a season turnaround on February 6th, when Northwestern upset then No. 20 Michigan at Allstate Arena, collapsed the last month as the Wildcats finished the season with seven-straight losses.

In his final game with the team, senior Scottie Lindsey had 12 points while McIntosh, dealing with a shoulder injury, finished with seven on 3-of-12 from the field. Dererk Pardon led Northwestern with 14 points, but it wasn’t enough to stop Penn State’s Tony Carr as he finished with 25 points and six-three pointers in helping the Nittany Lions advance to the next round.

Considering the team returned a number of players from their NCAA Tournament squad from a year ago, the end of the season on the first day of March is quite a disappointment. A so-so non-conference season started with two-straight losses to open conference play as the team lost four of their first five conference games. When Collins’ team won four-of-five games in late January and early February – including the upset of the Wolverines – the hope was the team would be able to turn it around.

But a blowout loss at Maryland was followed by a late collapse against Rutgers on the road and then an epic fall in the second half against second-ranked Michigan State. The Wildcats took as much as a 27-point first half lead on the Spartans only to fall apart in the second half in a regulation loss.

Northwestern never quite recovered, dropping the final three games of the regular season then Thursday’s Big Ten Tournament opener. Many hoped the magic would return at some point in 2018 season, but indeed this wasn’t 2017 for program.

Midnight came early and in a hurry for the Cinderella Wildcats of a year ago.