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Northwestern urged not to ditch system against Indiana

Guard Reggie Hearn (left) gets past Illinois’ Sam McLaurduring second half Wildcats’ upset victory Thursday. | Darrell Hoemann~AP

Guard Reggie Hearn (left) gets past Illinois’ Sam McLaurin during the second half of the Wildcats’ upset victory Thursday. | Darrell Hoemann~AP

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Updated: February 21, 2013 6:39AM

It’s the backbone of the Princeton offense Northwestern coach Bill Carmody runs, but it rarely was seen in three of four losses to start the Big Ten season. It resurfaced in the upset of No. 23 Illinois on Thursday.

It’s the backdoor cut that leads to an easy layup, and Carmody only can hope the staple resurfaces when No. 2 Indiana visits Welsh-Ryan Arena at noon Sunday.

‘‘We finally saw a breakthrough, and we stayed with our stuff and it finally started working for us,’’ senior guard Reggie Hearn said. ‘‘Hopefully, that’s something we can continue.’’

An upset of the Hoosiers would give the Wildcats victories over ranked teams in consecutive games for the second time in school history, but anybody who has seen the Indiana team led by coach Tom Crean and preseason All-American Cody Zeller knows it won’t be easy.

Northwestern (11-7, 2-3 Big Ten) must avoid turnovers against the Hoosiers (15-2, 3-1), who lead the nation in scoring (85.4 points per game) even after a 64-59 home loss to Wisconsin on Tuesday.

‘‘Wisconsin did what we need to do,’’ Hearn said. ‘‘They maintained the tempo they wanted, and they controlled the game defensively. That’s obviously what it takes to beat Indiana.’’

It will take more — much more — of what proved successful against Illinois for the Wildcats to topple the Hoosiers. Carmody challenged veteran players to be more aggressive offensively, and Hearn responded with a team-high 20 points while Jarod Swopshire and Alex Marcotullio added 12 apiece.

Swopshire, who also had six rebounds, is shooting 48.8 percent and averaging 11.9 points in NU victories this season. In losses, he’s shooting 30 percent and averaging 4.6 points.

The graduate student was a role player on the Louisville team that advanced to the Final Four last season, but he needs to change his offensive mentality and be a headliner moving forward.

‘‘He’s a stoic character,’’ Carmody said. ‘‘His pulse rate is probably about 30. But he’s like everybody else — he has to play more aggressive.’’

Continuing to execute the offense with the shot clock winding down helped to produce better scoring opportunities against Illinois. Throw in some mid-range jumpers to go with the layups and 53.3 percent three-point shooting against Illinois, and Northwestern will have the balance Carmody has been searching for.

‘‘We were taking our time against Iowa, but with 15 seconds left, we broke down and didn’t continue to run our offense,’’ Carmody said. ‘‘We would go one-and-one and go to ball screens, and it wasn’t effective. We’re just trying to get across to them that you can score late on the clock with the stuff that we’re running. Stick with what we’ve got.’’

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