Joe’s Corner: Is there such a thing as a moral victory?

In lieu of Northwestern’s close loss to the 16th ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, Joe Misulonas ponders the existence of moral victories in this week’s edition of Joe’s Corner.

Last night was a pretty tough loss for Northwestern. Coming off a five-game losing streak in which they hadn’t played very well, the Wildcats needed to win the rest of their games in order to be eligible for the NIT. They were facing the no. 16 Ohio State Buckeyes, fresh off a 68-60 victory over the then ranked no. 4 Michigan State Spartans. Many, such as myself, thought Northwestern would be lucky to end the game within twenty points. In fact, Northwestern battled throughout the game and didn’t let the Buckeyes stretch their lead to outrageous lengths (the most OSU lead by was 12, which occurred with 9:59 left in the 1st half). And with ten minutes left in the game, Kale Abrahamson hit a desperation three which gave Northwestern their first (and only) lead of the game.

Northwestern has always been outmatched by the Buckeyes, but has consistently found a way to be a thorn in their side. Last night was no exception, as they  held Aaron Craft to only three points and kept Deshaun Thomas from going off. Northwestern even outrebounded Ohio State, which is shocking considering the Wildcats were without their leading rebounder, Jared Swopshire.

It was a solid game for Northwestern, but not one without flaws. 15 turnovers to only 12 assists. Several players getting into foul trouble during the game. Luckily, the Northwestern 2-3 zone held strong most of the game and prevented Ohio State from getting good lucks at the basket.

Does that make last night a moral victory?

First of all, I hate the idea of a “moral victory.” Moral victories is just another stupid sports clichés fan use to be supportive of their team because they’re too timid to actually criticize the team. Other examples are, “The best offense is a good defense.” No, you’re team just sucks at offense and you’re hoping they can compensate by not allowing too many points to make your offense look impotent. Or, “He’s a scrapper.” No, he just has a lot of energy and stinks at everything else.

When we say, “That game was a moral victory,” we really mean, “It’s ok that we lost that game because we never expected to win it anyway.” That’s a terrible mentality to have whether you’re a fan, player, or coach. We shouldn’t let our team off the hook for losing games. When they determine NCAA Tournament berths or Bowl bids, there’s no category for “moral victories.”

But sometimes there are extenuating circumstances. Consider this Northwestern team. The highest rated recruit in the program’s history was suspended before the season, they lose their leading returning scorer to injury before conference play, and they lose their highly touted transfer student from a Final Four team. Even if all three of those guys had been healthy and playing against the Buckeyes last night, Northwestern still would not have been favored to win the game.

So Northwestern is basically half a team taking on a Big Ten opponent who was ranked third in the nation during the preseason. Granted, they were grossly overrated, but there was a reason behind that ranking: Ohio State has talent. Deshaun Thomas is one of the best in the conference. Aaron Craft is a very efficient point guard (the kind of point guard everyone hopes Dave Sobolewski becomes). And they have a solid supporting cast.

Ohio State should’ve run away with this game. But they didn’t. Northwestern clamped down in the 2-3 zone and didn’t give them easy baskets. They ran the Princeton offense well (not great) and converted a lot of their open looks. And had Lenzelle Smith Jr. not shot 6-11 three pointers and scored 24 points, Northwestern probably walks out of Welsh-Ryan a winner.

To say this was a moral victory would imply that the team grows from the experience. They use it as motivation for their next game. Northwestern’s already had a moral victory, two weeks ago when they faced OHIO STATE. With 1:30 left in the game, Northwestern only trailed by two in Columbus, and the Buckeyes proceeded to go on a 8-0 run to end the game. People said that was a moral victory, and Northwestern went on to lose their next four games, including last night.

So I won’t call the Ohio State a moral victory because I don’t see any motivation coming from it. Northwestern will still be playing as a half-squad the rest of the season and now their NIT eligibility is done.

However, I haven’t completely given up on this team. There’s still a part of me that thinks this team has one last upset left in them, whether that’s against Michigan State or in the Big Ten Tournament.

After all, which one of us wasn’t imagining rushing the court after Abrahamson hit that desperation three?

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