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January 20, 2013EVANSTON-Apparently no one told Reggie Hearn how college basketball works.
In big time college hoops, a former walkon doesn't score 22 points against a Top 5 team. He doesn't hit big shots down the stretch to give his team a chance for an upset, and he certainly doesn't outscore Indiana All-America center Cody Zeller who was one of the most heavily recruited players in the country coming out of high school.
While other Northwestern players were often outmatched and ineffective against a superiorly talented Indiana squad, the senior provided the spark for the Wildcats in a 67-59 losing effort.
But after leading a ferocious second-half rally and nearly carrying the Wildcats to an upset of the No. 2 Hoosiers, Hearn said he could not care less about his game-high scoring total.
"I much rather would have had a 'W' than 22 points," he said. "I was really hoping we could get a big win today in our own arena. Unfortunately we weren't able to do that."
Yet in a game that could have easily turned into a blowout, Hearn's emotion, grit and tenacity brought the team back from a 16-point halftime deficit to twice close the gap to five in the final seven minutes. He scored 13 of his points in the second half, as Northwestern followed up an abysmal 17-point first half with a 42-point second.
Hearn's play garnered the praise of sophomore point guard Dave Sobolewski for jump-starting the Wildcats' second-half run.
"Reggie was getting to the rack," he said. "That opened up our entire offense."
"He's been playing well all year," head coach Bill Carmody said. "He's a senior, and that's what's expected of him. He's doing his share."
Sobolewski, who finished with only 9 points on 2-of-9 shooting, was one player whose lackluster performance forced Hearn to do more.
Zeller, meanwhile, had his way inside, scoring 21 points and ripping down 13 rebounds.
Even so, Hearn had the few Northwestern fans among the sellout crowd dreaming of an upset.
During a five-minute stretch in the second half, Hearn scored eight of Northwestern's 14 points, including three free throws that cut the lead to eight with 3:24 to go. The Fort Wayne, Ind. native drove to the basket with reckless abandon all afternoon, often sacrificing his body to challenge Zeller and get a chance to grab two more points for the Cats.
Hearn was the only Northwestern player to shoot higher than 50 percent from the floor, finishing 7-for-12. He also led the team from the charity stripe, hitting 8-of-9 (89 percent).
The effort was largely similar on the defensive end, where Hearn finished with four fouls, three rebounds and a block, all while never getting any rest. He played the entire 40 minutes on Sunday, just three days after playing 39 minutes against Illinois.
His legs, though, may have seemed less heavy against a team from his home state that failed to recruit him.
"I do enjoy playing against Indiana teams," he said. "But I'm a Northwestern Wildcat."
Despite Hearn's best efforts and an inspiring second half, this Wildcat team will continue to face challenges in the coming weeks. Only 12 games remain in the regular season, and Hearn and the other seniors are beginning to run out of time to achieve its goal of the program's first-ever NCAA tournament bid.
While the media and most fans counted out Northwestern as soon as Drew Crawford was lost for the year with a torn labrum, Hearn thinks the Wildcats still have a shot.
"This is our last chance to get into the tournament, and we think we can do it," he said. "You're gonna see us giving 100 percent every night."
For anyone who saw Sunday's game, this should come as no surprise.
Hearn may have been a walkon, but he sure doesn't play like one.