Moments after Northwestern's heartbreaking 75-73 loss against No. 10 Ohio State, John Shurna and Drew Crawford sat alone on the bench. Each player held their heads low, feeling stunned disbelief.
The Wildcats' two leading scorers combined for 45 points, giving every ounce of effort toward a potential upset of the Buckeyes -- what would have been a pivotal win.
It wasn't enough ... again.
Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips consoled the two players. He left a simple message; the only thing that can be said after another tough loss.
"Just that we've got a big game Saturday against Iowa," Shurna said.
Shurna and Crawford can't hold their heads low for too long. A difficult road test against the Iowa Hawkeyes looms.
Northwestern's NCAA Tournament hopes aren't dead, but most likely are on life support following another late-game defeat.
"It's very tough," said Drew Crawford. "It's just one of those things, every tough close loss is tough, especially when you have a chance to win it down the stretch."
Ohio State owned a 12-point lead with under six minutes remaining, when suddenly, Northwestern charged back behind a 17-5 run.
Trailing by three points with 21 seconds left, Reggie Hearn's jumper banked off the rim and into the hands of Lenzella Smith, but JerShon Cobb would steal the ballm giving Northwestern new life. After a NU timeout, Alex Marcotullio drained a long-distance three-pointer to tie the score at 73.
Seven seconds remained on the clock, and Northwestern needed a stop.
Craft found Jared Sullinger near the hoop, and he banked in the game-winning shot, two of his team-high 22 points.
"We wanted to get it in to (Aaron Craft) to push it," said Ohio State head coach Thad Matta. "He had three reads. I'm glad he chose Option No. 1."
Northwestern still had three seconds left, but no timeouts remaining. John Shurna fired up a desperation heave as time expired, but it banked off the front of the rim, symbolically, falling just short.
The only feeling after another late-game loss: "Disappointment," said Shurna.
Both the Wildcats and Buckeyes hit exactly 50 percent of their shots, but the difference in the game was in the rebounding margin. Ohio State dominated Northwestern with a 44-17 edge in boards, including 22 for Jared Sullinger.
NU, however, forced 17 turnovers to keep the score close.
Once again, Northwestern showed it could hang with the nation's premier teams, but could not get the victory. What that means for its NCAA tournament hopes remains to be seen. NU head coach Bill Carmody believes it will have little impact.
"I think we're a good team," he said. "Certainly, a loss doesn't solidy (NU's tournament hopes)."
Ohio State's head coach agreed, too. He fears a rematch with the Wildcats.
"I would hate, on Selection Sunday, to draw on them," said Matta of Northwestern.
NU has responded well after its heartbreakers, and will need to do so on Saturday against the Hawkeyes, otherwise its NCAA tournament bubble will have likely popped.
"We're all proud of our team," said Crawford. "One thing that's great about us is that we're a resiliant bunch. We'll be ready to go on Saturday."