Northwestern slugged out a 66-55 victory over a very physical SMU team tonight in Welsh-Ryan Arena. The ‘Cats got double figures from Juice Thompson (14), Craig Moore (14), and John Shurna (13) in the 11 point win. Kevin Coble and Kyle Rowley added 9 points apiece with 5 assists and 4 rebounds respectively. Overall, this might have Northwestern’s least impressive game of the year, but the fact NU could play poorly and pull off the win is a good sign. Such an uninspired effort from past NU teams would have resulted in a loss.
There are many possible explanations for the Wildcats struggles tonight, but the good news is I feel none are particularly serious. For example, the Wildcats might still have felt some exhaustion from their long trip to California. That isn’t going to happen again. Also, zero energy existed in Welsh-Ryan Arena tonight. I certainly hope the Big Ten season brings more excitement. Finally, early fouls put Coble and Moore on the bench early. I suppose this could happen again, but Kevin and Craig are not players who are in habitual foul trouble.
An interesting section of the game occurred during the last ten minutes of the first half when Moore and Coble went to the bench. At that point they were replaced by Mike Capocci and Jeremy Nash. The lineup with those two, Jeff Ryan, Luka Mirkovic, and Michael Thompson didn’t provide a lot of offense, but I was impressed with that group’s defense. I’ve talked a lot about the rotation and I think this section of the game showed both the good and bad of the Wildcat bench players. They are very athletic, play very good defense, but offensively they aren’t great shooters and that limits what they can do. The SMU defense didn’t respect Jeff Ryan from three because he never shoots a three, as a result his ability to create was neutralized. The same can be side for Capocci and Mirkovic. Nash tried to hit some shots, but they didn’t fall today. Still, his shot at least looked much better than in the past. Overall, I think it is clear that Moore and Coble should not rest at the same time unless, like today, forced to by foul trouble.
I have to also compliment SMU on the intensity of their defense, though, they were perhaps allowed to be extra physical by an officiating crew that took, “let them play” to a whole new level. At times it looked like players in the lane were getting tackled, but on went the game. Nevertheless, I’m always impressed by physical teams, and I was told by a great high school coach that if you play really aggressive defense officials will only call one out of every five fouls. I think Matt Doherty was taught the same lesson.
Perhaps the aggressive defense by SMU is the reason the Wildcats turned the ball over 18 times, but I have to admit I’m a bit worried about ball security for NU. After all, NU had a similar high turnover total vs Stanford and many of the turnovers were unforced. Kevin Coble who posted 5 assists and only 1 turnover was the only NU starter with a positive assist-to-turnover ration. Juice Thompson did shoot well tonight (3-of-5 from behind the arc), but he turned the ball over 4 times and only had 1 assists. That means Juice is -3 in assist-to-turnover ratio the last two games.
For the record, let me say I was impressed with SMU’s 7-1 center Bamba Fall who turned in a nice performance around the hoop including an impressive dunk. However, John Shurna’s second half slam was just as impressive.
Finally, Coach Carmody once again wore his snowman tie which he wears every year for the game before Christmas. I beleive today's win keeps that tie undefeated.