EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) Bryant McIntosh knew Northwestern needed to recover from losing three of its last four games. After all, the Wildcats are aiming for their first NCAA Tournament appearance.
So he nailed a go-ahead 3 with 58 seconds left to hold off last-place Rutgers.
”They have nothing to lose,” McIntosh said. ”It’s easy to play with a little pressure on ourselves because we feel like we have to win this game, especially with the little skid we’ve had. So to find a way to win was big for us.”
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McIntosh scored 18 points as Northwestern edged the Scarlet Knights 69-65 on Saturday to keep their postseason hopes alive.
Dererk Pardon added 12 points for the Wildcats (20-7, 9-5 Big Ten), who matched their school record for victories in a season.
”Most of the time, we’re just playing for respect at this point of the year, so it is different,” McIntosh said. ”There’s a bullseye on the back.”
Corey Sanders led Rutgers (13-15, 2-13) with 17 points and Nigel Johnson had 16. Eugene Omoruyi and C.J. Gettys added 10 apiece for the Scarlett Knights, who have the second-longest NCAA Tournament drought among Power 5 conference teams. They haven’t made the tournament since 1991.
”It’s hard,” Sanders said. ”We’re playing hard every game. We’re in every game. We just have to find a way to put 40 minutes together.”
McIntosh hit the 3 to give Northwestern a 65-63 lead, the Wildcats’ first since they were ahead 43-41. He then made the second of two free throws with 16 seconds remaining before Vic Law stole the ball from Sanders. Law made one of two foul shots before Sanders hit a layup for a two-point game with 3.2 seconds remaining. Northwestern’s Isiah Brown made two free throws to cap the victory.
Northwestern also won 20 games last season, 2010-11 and 2009-10.
Rutgers went on a 9-1 run to take a 49-44 lead with 11:38 remaining. McIntosh’s jumper with 10:08 left was Northwestern’s first field goal in in more than seven minutes and cut its deficit to 49-46.
”We’re doing things that haven’t been done in a while,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. ”That’s what we’re excited about, but it’s new. We gotta learn how to handle it better. Rutgers played really well. We didn’t defend to the level we needed to defend to for 30 minutes. We did the last eight.”
Rutgers needs to win its final three regular season games to have a winning record. Last season, the Scarlet Knights went 7-25 before coach Steve Pikiell took over.
Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament hopes likely would have evaporated with a loss. The Wildcats are receiving votes and have been ranked No. 25.
Leading scorer Scottie Lindsey scored six points in his return to Northwestern’s starting lineup after he missed the previous four games due to mononucleosis.
Lindsey shot 2 of 8 from the field, including 1 of 6 on 3s, in 24 minutes. Collins said Lindsey didn’t exercise for three weeks.
”I felt like I played him too long in the first half,” Collins said. ”He really didn’t have much left in the second half. He’s only going to get better.”
STAT OF THE GAME
Rutgers won the rebounding battle 39-31 and grabbed 18 offensive rebounds, nine more than Northwestern.
”We’re the best the offensive rebounding team in the league,” Pikiell said. ”There are pros and cons for that. We have to make more of our first shots.”
Before McIntosh hit his big 3, Gavin Skelly made a 3 to pull Northwestern within one with 2:03 left. He also nailed a 3 to cut the deficit to three with 6:25 remaining.
Rutgers will play its final three regular season games at home. The Scarlet Knights face Michigan on Wednesday.
Northwestern will try for its school-record 21st victory at Illinois on Tuesday.