The past week of basketball was tough on Reggie Hearn.
His Northwestern team dropped consecutive losses to Nebraska and Michigan. Averaging close to 14 points per game, the senior scored only six and seven, respectively. He shot only 21 percent in the two contests combined, and the Wildcats stumbled accordingly.
The struggles were uncharacteristic for Hearn, who has emerged as Northwestern’s best player and emotional leader. Going into Saturday’s game against Purdue, head coach Bill Carmody had some words of wisdom for his star: just relax.
“I told [Hearn] this should be the best time of your life,” he said. “You’re here at a Big Ten school, getting a Northwestern degree. You look sad and all that, just go out there and play. Don’t listen to me—do what you do and that’ll be enough. He did that today.”
Hearn gave more than enough for the Wildcats to defeat the Boilermakers, tallying a career-high 26 points and escaping his two-game rut in a 75-60 victory. He attributed some of his success to Carmody’s advice, but also the simple Northwestern mantra of making shots.
“Maybe there were times when I was pressing a little bit,” said Hearn. “There were times I felt like I wasn’t really finding my role in the offense, maybe thinking a little bit too much. Today I stayed within the offense, released it and found my shot.”
Much of Hearn’s impact came early on, and in a huge way. At halftime he accounted for 21 points, knocking down his first nine shots. Hearn and teammate Dave Sobolewski came out firing, sparking Northwestern to a 12-0 run to open the game.
“[The coaches] wanted to let us get out and go a bit,” said Sobolewski. “We did a good job with that early. We hit a couple of shots and Reggie had an awesome first half, which helped us get a good lead.”
Purdue head coach Matt Painter attested to the difficulty of preparing for Northwestern and its offense. The Boilermakers knew full well what Hearn was capable of, but couldn’t bottle up the Wildcats’ leading scorer.
“We treated [Hearn] as a big-time shooter,” said Painter. “Whether it was a pin-down off an out-of-bounds play, a transition shot or a piece of their offense, he was getting into rhythm and you can’t let that happen.”
Northwestern needs Hearn at his best as it wraps up its Big Ten schedule, beginning with Iowa on the road Saturday. Priming for a strong finish, the senior appears to have broken out of his scoring funk. By keeping things simple, Hearn will dictate just how far his team can go.
“He’s a thoughtful guy, and sometimes smart guys think a little too much,” said Carmody. “You have to just go do what you’ve worked hard at for a long time.”
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