A program changing win. That’s what Bill Carmody has been searching for since coming to Evanston in 2001. Today was that win. The Wildcat coaches planned and the players executed a nearly flawless game plan this evening in East Lansing. The man of the hour will of course be Kevin Coble who scored 31 points and made a collection of circus shots which will be featured on highlight films far and wide. As great as Coble was, though, I want to highlight Michael “Juice” Thompson’s play. Juice (20 pts) came through tonight in the clutch multiple times. He hit 4-of-8 threes and many of them were late in the shot clock. Even more important, he connected on 4-of-5 free throws down the stretch. For a guy who has struggled from the line this season, that was as mentally tough a performance as I have seen. It seemed like Juice actually wanted to get fouled and go the line. That’s the kind of leadership you need from your point guard. The other Wildcat in double figures tonight was Craig Moore who battled through an unbelievably rough first half (0-of-7) to end up with 11 points. Moore’s three to put the ‘Cats back on top after Michigan State took a 49-48 lead should be the play of the game. It showed that tonight NU would not go away.
Perhaps the stat which was most important tonight was that NU forced 18 turnovers while only committing 7. The Spartan guards seriously struggled with NU’s 1-3-1. Kalin Lucas turned the ball over a remarkable 6 times for the Spartans. Chris Allen had 7 TO’s. As noted before the game, this ability to force turnovers negated Michigan State’s substantial rebounding edge. Tonight, MSU outrebounded the ‘Cats 39-23, but it should be noted the Spartans only had a 12-7 edge on the offensive glass. This is a huge step forward for NU. Another huge step was the play of Luka Mirkovic who grabbed four rebounds, hit a big shot (missed one too, but still) and grabbed a late key rebound and had the presence of mind to call timeout. NU’s other centers also had good moments. Kyle Rowley made a nice shot early in the game and provided an early presence. Davide Curletti got off the bench early to play 7 minutes and recorded an assist and a steal. Finally, Ivan Peljusic got four points and continued his habit of scoring his points in bunches when at the end of the half he scored on a put back and then made a jumped as time expired.
Jeremy Nash played well again at the top of the 1-3-1 and did a remarkable job of avoiding his fifth foul for nearly ten minutes. I wish Jeremy were a better shooter, I really don’t understand why he isn’t, but he had one of the best games I’ve ever seen for a guy who scored zero. Aside from three rebounds, all of which seemed big, Nash added a team-high 3 assists against 0 turnovers. Nash also had 1 steal, but the number of bad passes he forced was probably in the double digit range. Kevin Coble proved to be the recipient of many of those bad passes and he ended up with 4 steals. Overall NU had 9 steals meaning NU steals accounted for half of MSU’s turnovers.
Finally, where Northwestern goes from here will dictate how big this win really is, but this win is significant for Coach Carmody and the ‘Cats. It shows wherever they go, they can compete. This attitude should help as many tough road tests remain on the schedule. It should also help at home where many more fans will likely show, especially if NU sweeps the state of Michigan by beating the very talented Wolverines on Saturday night.