A season which statistically was the second best in Northwestern history ended this evening when the Wildcats fell to Tulsa in the first round of the NIT. It was Northwestern’s forth postseason appearance and the second in which they lost the first game on the road. Playing on the road no doubt hurt Northwestern as Tulsa overcame a slow start and ended up scoring 40 second half points on route to victory. Tulsa guard Ben Uzoh scored 13 points and hit three big second half threes, but the real key to victory was Tulsa taking 29 free throws and making 25. Northwestern was 6-of-9 from the line. Some of the credit for Tulsa’s great free throw numbers has to go to big man Jerome Jordan who hit 8-of-11, but really the entire Tulsa team was involved from the charity strip. Northwestern probably should have been aggressive to the hoop, but Jordan’s presence keep the Wildcats further from the hoop. There were probably some calls which didn’t go Northwestern’s way, but I still would have liked NU to force the issue a little more inside as it seemed like the officials wanted to blow their whistles. Maybe they wouldn’t have made the calls since NU was the visitor (they did let Tulsa get away with bumping cutters all day), but I wonder if NU would gotten a few more calls had they taken the ball inside a bit more.
Aside from the free throw line what really changed the game was the start of the second half. Ben Uzoh and his teammates came out of the locker room hot and got NU down 10 points in what seemed like the blink of an eye. Eventually Tulsa gained an 11 point lead. As was the recurring theme in later part of the season, NU made a nice attempt at a comeback to try and cut the lead. The Wildcats eventually did cut the lead to three points thanks to some excellent defense and a few threes, but Craig Moore’s last shot didn’t fall. Sadly, he was open, but he rushed a bit and the shot bounced off the rim. It was a disappointing way for NU’s all time best three point shooter to end his career. Personally, I just wish NU would consistently play defense the way they did when making their attempt at a comeback. It is amazing to me how the Wildcats defensive effort sometimes lags and how their opponents instantly take advantage of those lapses.
Northwestern’s best performance came from Kevin Coble who scored 17 points to go along with 5 rebounds and 6 assists. I really feel as though Coble finished this year strong, unfortunately not many of his teammates matched his effort in the Wildcats last few games. Still, Coble’s play at the end of 2008-09 gives hope for him as the leader of the 2009-10 Wildcat team. NU’s leader for 2008-09, Craig Moore also scored 17 points, but the Wildcat’s third leading scorer Michael Thompson scored just 4 points and spent most of the game on the bench due to foul trouble. With Moore gone next season, Thompson must reduce his propensity to foul. He will be the Wildcats top three point shooter and the key guy when NU needs a clutch shot next year.
Speaking of next year, right now it seems like October is years away, but the fact is the Wildcats will be starting practice for the 2009-2010 season very soon. In between now and then it will be critical John Shurna, Kyle Rowley, Davide Curletti, and Luka Mirkovic to improve. Shurna needs to become more consistent from the three point line and the three centers need to improve their ability to take care of the ball, play post defense, and score inside. All these weaknesses were exposed tonight as Shurna struggled from three and NU’s young centers struggled against Jordan, but maybe someday it will be another young team who struggles against NU’s centers.
Finally, I want to thank all those who took the time to read my game recaps and other posts during this season. During the offseason, I’ll continue to post, though, probably not daily. The first set of posts, which should appear in the next few days, will feature a postseason breakdown of each position group. I will start the first day with the guards, move next to forwards, then centers, and finally conclude with the breakdown of the performance of NU’s coaching staff. Welsh-Ryan Ramblings’ postseason programming will also include a discussion of NU’s two recruits for next year, Drew Crawford and Alex Marcotullio. Let’s hope they are the missing pieces which will take the Wildcats to their first ever NCAA Tournament.