Two weeks ago, Scottie Lindsey was benched.
Northwestern head coach Chris Collins sat his sophomore guard out of the Wildcats' game against Michigan State. Lindsey had not played well during Big Ten play up to that point, averaging a mere 3.8 points per game in the first eight conference games, going scoreless three times during that stretch.
Well, it's safe to say that Lindsey got the message.
Lindsey, a Hillside native, has been terrific ever since, scoring 49 points over the last four games including a sensational 18-point performance in Saturday night's 58-56 win over Illinois in Evanston.
Lindsey was 6-for-10 from the field and 4-for-7 from 3-point range, at one point in the second half hitting back-to-back triples that Illinois head coach John Groce called one of the biggest moments of the game.
But even more than those made shots, Collins liked a huge play at game's end, when Lindsey knocked the ball away from Illini big man Maverick Morgan. The turnover turned into a fastbreak layup for Tre Demps and extended a three-point Cats lead to five in the game's final minute.
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“I thought Scottie Lindsey was huge tonight," Collins said after the game. "He’s such a big key for our team when he can come in and give us that kind of scoring and energy. He had a huge steal there with a minute to go when we were up three that led to Tre giving us a breakaway layup.
“I just thought he played well. I told him after the game, that’s what I see in him. That’s why I coach him hard because I see a guy that has a chance to be an outstanding player if he just continues to throw himself in, to keep working and playing with that kind of energy and life. I just thought he had a great floor game. The shots he made were huge, but his steal was one of the biggest plays of the game.”
While many believed this could have been the year that Northwestern finally made the NCAA tournament, what with a talented roster and a 12-1 non-conference mark, it looks like a lot of things would have to happen for the Cats to score an invite to the Big Dance. Northwestern has just a 5-8 record in Big Ten play, even after Saturday's win.
But the future remains bright. Collins keeps recruiting well, and next season is no exception, plus the Cats will return Vic Law, who suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason.
Lindsey will be a big part of that future. In the next two seasons, he's likely to be a key piece for Northwestern. And so that's what the benching against Michigan State was, a move for the future. This learning experience could be the lightbulb moment for the young Lindsey. And Collins thought maybe it was necessary.
“Obviously, no one likes to sit there and not play. As a coach, I didn’t want to have to do that, but I felt that was what he needed to maybe get that jolt that we were looking for," Collins said. "Fortunately for us, ever since that game he’s had a renewed fire and he’s really played well for us and was a huge reason why we won tonight.”
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Yes, the move really seems to have worked.
“I just know that I have to bring more things to the table," Lindsey said. "I felt like at that time it was a stretch of games where I wasn’t doing everything I was supposed to to help my team. I just have to come out, play with a lot more energy and help the team out more.”
“He’s responded great," Demps said. "His work ethic has just gotten so much better, just with his drills, his cuts are so much more crisp. I think you’re seeing the fruit of his labor. He’s got to keep going on that path.”
So is next season the one where Northwestern finally makes the NCAA tournament? Or the one after that? Time will tell. But if Lindsey is pouring in the points in a March Madness game, remember this as the moment where things started going right.
"Scottie’s a talented player, and that’s why I recruited him," Collins said. "He has a huge upside, and he’s still just a sophomore. So I think he’s got a bright future, and we’re really committed to continuing to develop him and our program.”