For much of the second half Northwestern looked on the verge of a collapse which would allow Tennessee State to cruise to an easy upset victory, but key shots from Michael “Juice” Thompson and Alex Marcotullio helped the Wildcats escape with a 69-62 win. The Wildcats are now 2-1 on the young season and despite the narrow margin of victory against a much weaker squad, I think NU now has a better idea of what type of team they need to be in order to win games.
With Kevin Coble out it is clear that Juice Thompson will have to be NU’s primary scorer. I’m not ready to write off John Shurna as an offensive weapon, but Shurna is really struggling with his shot right now and overall just seems too inconsistent to be NU’s go to guy. Therefore, the Wildcat point guard and ironman (39 minutes today) Juice Thompson will have to carry the load on offense. Thompson got 31 against the Tigers using a variety of skills. A couple times he floated fantastic runners over taller defenders in the lane, he did a good job of drawing fouls with pump fakes (8-of-10 from the line), and he hit 5-of-13 threes. It was also clear late in the game that Juice was comfortable shooting the ball in clutch situations which might be at least one very positive lesson from a game which wasn’t entirely positive.
Another player who stepped up and showed no fear in shooting the big shot was freshman guard Alex Marcotullio. Marcotullio shot 3-of-3 from distance including a three point with the score tied at 62 which put the Wildcats into the lead for good. Marcotullio is so smooth and seems so good from deep that I almost believe he could stand in the Norris parking lot and gun in three pointers.
Marcotullio’s fellow freshman guard Drew Carwford also had a nice game. He hit his first career three, scored a career high 8 points, and grabbed a career high 8 rebounds. Plus, Crawford was left on the court by Coach Carmody in crunch time which has to give the young man good confidence. What was also nice about Crawford’s game was 4 of Crawford’s rebounds came on offense and a couple set up open looks for Thompson.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the game for NU was turning the ball over 14 times. NU can’t afford heavy TO games if they want to win this season. Even worse, the biggest turnover problem was with John Shurna who had 6 turnovers. Shurna did have four assists, but a 1-to-2 assist to turnover ration won’t help NU win. The bottom line is NU needs more consistency from a guy that has played well not only in the Big Ten, but on the international level. Shurna did have a circus dunk that he made into a three point play, but overall Shurna was only 2-of-5 from the line.
NU also didn’t get great performances from Luka Mirkovic or Mike Capocci who both need to be key contributors. Capocci turned over the ball three times and Mirkovic once again struggled to finish plays. Kyle Rowley only played six minutes and Ivan Peljusic only played three. NU went most of the way (and all of crunch time) with Davide Curletti at center. Curletti wasn’t spectacular, but he did pick up 4 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and no turnovers.
Northwestern now has only one day off till they play Liberty in the Chicago Invitational Challenge’s second game. It will be interesting to see how NU, and specifically Juice Thompson, respond to the heavy load of games in a short time span.