Do it for Reggie

Northwestern's hopes have all but dimmed, but nobody represents the team's upbeat mindset like senior guard Reggie Hearn. The Wildcats' inspirational leader has made the season memorable to this point, and will need to carry his team moving forward.

It would be easy to get lost in the walk-on narrative.

In his freshman year, Reggie Hearn scored in only one game. Against North Florida, he had five points. That could have been his ceiling.

Nothing changed the following season, when he played sparingly and averaged one point per game.

So last year, on a team with reasonable tournament chances, fans exchanged glances when this "walk-on" cracked the starting lineup. With Jershon Cobb sidelined, they simply hoped he would survive.

Only Hearn did more than that. He started every game. He shot a solid 49 percent from the two-guard position. And when the team tried to resuscitate its tournament hopes, he shot a combined 12-for-16 in February wins against Illinois and Iowa. Not bad for a walk-on.

Now, with Drew Crawford out, Hearn might be the best player on the team. He averages more than 14 points per game, rebounds fairly well and does solid work on defense.

We don't glorify the walk-on story. We don't act like Carmody boldly pulled Hearn off the bench and witnessed stunning results. We respect him for his talent. And there's something more than that. He's given fans something to cheer for.

There were the consecutive and-ones that led to the upset win over then-No. 12 Minnesota. Hearn, unlike many of his predecessors, showed this elusive will to win. With help, he closed the game.

That showed again with Purdue in town last weekend. He couldn't miss. He sunk his first eight shots and finished with a career-high 26 points – two more than in his freshman and sophomore seasons combined.

Coaches respect him. Brad Stevens wondered how he got away. Matt Painter identified him as a high-volume scorer. Even then, they couldn't stop him.

That takes us back to the story of the season. If you had told me, or anyone, that this team could compete without Cobb or Drew Crawford: please.

But it seems that before every game, there's hope that the Wildcats can make it interesting. When Iowa came to town, they had a chance to make a statement. When they traveled to Iowa, they had another. Who better embodies this never-say-die attitude than Hearn?

Those fading tournament hopes just about died when NU lost to Iowa on Saturday. The damage went beyond the loss. Jared Swopshire and Alex Olah left the game with injuries that will likely keep them out on Thursday against Ohio State. Who can even suit up?

As a senior, this is his last chance to make a tournament run. He won't get there, but in the process, he endeared himself to the fan base. With hard play and memorable games, he earned it.

After Iowa, Hearn made no excuses. In a season filled with bad luck, he keeps playing.

On Senior Day, he'll be the last to walk out on the court. And something tells me the fans will be surprisingly loud. Before then, we can appreciate the walk-on-turned-rock.

Whoever heads out on the floor, they'll keep going to the well.

It could have been a lost season. Thankfully, Hearn helped to make it at least a little bit memorable.

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