Without a doubt Wildcat fans had many reasons to worry when tonight’s game started. When the Wildcats looked uneasy in the game’s first 5 minutes or so those fans probably continued to worry, but once NU coach Bill Carmody listened to assistant Mitch Henderson and switched from the 2-3 zone to the 1-3-1 the ‘Cats, specifically Jeremy Nash, exploded past the Northern Illinois Huskies on the way to a 22-point victory.
Northwestern wasn’t perfect in tonight’s game, but they did a lot well and it starts with Nash. The senior guard got only the second start of his career and delivered in a big way. Nash scored 20 points, grabbed 4 rebounds, and dished out a team high 3 assists. He also hit 10-of-12 free throws which is critical as I think Nash will get free throw attempts given the type of cutting and slashing game he plays. Nash also took seven three pointers. He made just two, but if he makes on average 35% of his three pointers this year he’ll continue to be a major offensive threat. I also want to mention that Nash had two dunks in tonight’s game. I feel like it has been some time since Northwestern has had a player (especially a guard) who dunked twice in a single game.
Along with Nash, Northwestern also got some great early play from Luka Mirkovic. As NU kind of felt their way through the game’s first few minutes it was the play of Luka Mirkovic that steadied NU. Mirkovic scored NU’s first two baskets (one nice turnaround jumper) and did a nice job all night of converting from the free throw line and staying active inside. In total Mirkovic scored 15 points, grabbed 5 rebounds, made 7-of-10 free throws, and didn’t turn the ball over once. I’d still like to see Mirkovic extend his range a bit more in order to really open up the offense, but he played a nice game.
One concern from Northwestern has to be three point shooting. NU will need to make threes to win big games, but tonight the ‘Cats shot just 5-of-21 from distance. Likely NU’s two best three point shooters, Michael “Juice” Thompson and John Shurna, were 2-of-9 combined with Juice making those two. Now overall Juice and Shurna both posted double digits points with 12 and 11 respectively, but they will both have to shoot better for NU to pull off the big wins fans are hoping for. One major credit that goes to Juice Thompson tonight is that he played 39 minutes and had 0 turnovers. That is simply great point guard play. I don’t know if NU has a solid backup for Juice, but as long as he stays out of foul trouble it seems NU is in great hands with Juice running the team.
Off the bench Ivan Peljusic scored 7 points, got a team high 7 rebounds, and dished out 2 assists. Peljusic might sometimes force things a little bit too much, but he has great energy and along with Shurna is NU’s best player at fighting inside for rebounds.
Also off the bench it was nice to see Kyle Rowley come in and play well enough to score 5 points and make one nice move from an and 1.
Mike Capocci also played well off the bench converting an alley-op pass from Jeff Ryan for a huge fan pleasing jam. Capocci also made 3-of-4 free throws and that works out to the same 75 % as his 9-of-12 last season. I really do think he might be a guy NU can use from the line when teams want to foul.
News and Notes: The NU students did a great job of showing up and supporting the 'Cats tonight....Other than the Ryan to Capocci alley-op the best play of the night might have been John Shurna grabbing a rebound and dribbling coast to coast for a layup and a foul….Shortly after a nice steal and throwing that alley-op Jeff Ryan went down with an injury which appeared to be related to his leg or knee….Northwestern made 34 free throws a high for a Bill Carmody team….Northwestern’s women’s basketball team scored an impressive season opening road victory with a win at Toledo 73-64….Junior Amy Jaeschke scored 27 points and grabbed 8 rebounds in that contest.