It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
When Chris Collins removed Drew Crawford from the game with just over a minute to play in the wake of the worst defeat of Crawford’s senior season on Thursday night, the coach gave the player a piece of his mind. In a good way.
"I told him that I don’t want tonight to be indicative of what he’s meant to this program and this team this year," Collins said. "You’re gonna have nights like this, it just so happened that it was the last game. More than anything, I just said hold your head high, because he should…he’s one of the great players to play in this program."
When the entire arena (including Penn State’s bench) rose to give Crawford a standing ovation as he exited the game at Welsh-Ryan Arena for the final time, the respect was emblematic of the redshirt senior’s outstanding career at NU.
Even with the disappointment that followed a night beginning with so much nostalgia and excitement, Crawford’s six points on 2-of-9 shooting couldn’t erase what he was able to accomplish against his opponents in the B1G over the course of his five-year career.
When it comes to Crawford, statistics only paint part of the picture, but they’re worth mentioning nevertheless. He ranks in the top five in 11 statical categories over the course of his five-year career at Northwestern while averaging 13.4 points and five rebounds during his 141 games (140 starts) for the ‘Cats.
In other words, Crawford is certainly one of the best, if not most accomplished players in the program’s history. Which is why it wasn’t surprising that he came back strong following his rough senior night, putting up 27 points and seven rebounds against Purdue on Sunday. While he might not have closed out his Welsh-Ryan Arena career on top, Crawford’s final regular season game was a good one, and he’ll certainly be missed next year.
"I’m sad that I only get a chance to coach him for one year," Collins said following the Penn State loss.
Part of Crawford’s legacy includes some outstanding performances against B1G opposition over the years. The Wisconsin faithful will recall Crawford’s 30 points on 15 shots on Jan. 29 earlier this season, and he’s made a habit of putting up numbers like that against other B1G competition as well, the only current player at Northwestern to achieve consistent success against the rest of the conference.
Going back to his freshman season, Crawford really broke onto the B1G scene when he put up 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting against the Wolverines in Ann Arbor. He was named B1G freshman of the year, the first Northwestern player to ever receive the honor.
His first breakout performance against Michigan State came the following season, when he scored 20 points in just 29 minutes on 14 shots as the ‘Cats upset the then-No. 8 Spartans. He's achieved success against just about every B1G team at one point or another, something even his team's overall shortcomings cannot undo.
Crawford's best performance against each B1G team:
Crawford did play on a pair of 20-win teams during his first two collegiate years, and Northwestern won a respectable seven games in the B1G each year. Though combining to win just nine conference games over the last two seasons, NU's basketball program has undoubtedly improved over the course of Crawford’s time, and there’s no debating that it's in better shape now than it was five years ago. Crawford has played as big a role in that as anyone.
It's funny to think that Crawford almost didn’t play his final season in the B1G; he could have gone anywhere for his last year of eligibility. But the decision was never really that difficult for Northwestern's prized possession, who couldn't bring himself to leave Evanston because of the support and care he’d always received from the NU community. In the end, he was there to stay.
Wildcat Feature: Drew Crawford (via Northwestern Athletics)
"I hope I’m remembered as a guy who really cared about the school, about the program and gave it his all every day." - Drew Crawford