Northwestern’s decentralized hero system continued Friday night as sophomore John Shurna had his best game of the season and his career with 25 points and 8 rebounds against the 23rd ranked Fighting Irish. Shurna made 9-of-18 shots, but what was impressive was aside from hitting some key threes, including a huge momentum swinger at the end of the 1st half, Shurna also displayed a solid ability to score inside. Notre Dame’s Ben Hansbrough was matched up on Shurna for much of the game and NU successfully used Shurna’s height advantage to get inside looks. They weren’t always easy looks, and Shurna didn’t convert all of them, but he made enough clutch shots to help NU hold the lead in the second half.
Aside from Shurna, NU also got fantastic production from Michael “Juice” Thompson and Alex Marcotullio. Thompson scored 20 points and made 4 free key free throws to seal the game in the final 48 seconds. Marcotullio totaled 13 points and made 3 big three pointers. His final three pushed a 58-56 NU lead to 61-56 and was essentially the shot which won the game for Northwestern. What I like about Marcotullio is that he already has shown a fearless quality similar to former Wildcat shooting guard Craig Moore. Marcotullio had a series of misses, including one which hit the side of the backboard, but he didn’t stop shooting. When he releases the ball he shows great confidence and I have no doubt he believes he can hit any shot he takes. Head Coach Bill Carmody even indicated that the play which resulted in Marcotullio’s final shot was supposed to go to Juice Thompson, but Marcotullio pulled the trigger when he saw the open space. That’s the type of gutsy play Marcotullio brings to NU. He also plays excellent defense and showed no fear attacking inside. He grabbed four rebounds and made a great pass to Luka Mirkovic for an easy two. Any team that thinks of Marcotullio as only a one-dimensional shooter is selling the Wildcat guard very short.
Luke Mirkovic is something of an unsung hero in tonight’s Wildcat win as well. Mirkovic scored enough points to make a dent in the scorebook, but where he really excelled was playing defense and keeping ND’s Luke Harangody off the glass. NU ran their 1-3-1 much of the game and it wasn’t always Mirkovic’s job to box out Harangody, but when it was Mirkovic won that battle more often than not. Jeremy Nash also deserves credit for his play in the 1-3-1. Thanks to Marcotullio’s ability to play the top of that defense, Nash was able to play on the wing and make himself available for more rebounds. Northwestern’s defense deserves great credit as they held a team who averaged more than 80 points a game to just 58 points.
Looking Ahead to Iowa State…With NU playing Iowa State tomorrow at 7:00 PM CT, I’m not going to write a full preview of that contest, but here’s a preview in short: The Cyclones are 6-0 and beat St. Louis University 65-54 on Friday. In comparing them to a Big Ten team they are most similar to Tubby Smith’s Minnesota Golden Gophers in that they play a very aggressive defensive style and try to win by forcing 20+ turnovers a game from opponents. They also have a star big man in center Craig Brackins. With the way NU played Harangody ‘Cat fans should be confident in facing Brackins. On the other hand, with NU’s 1-5 record against Tubby Smith’s similar system, maybe NU fans shouldn’t be as confident. Despite that lack of success, I think NU’s experience with Minnesota will work in the Wildcats favor while Iowa State hasn’t seen a team similar to Northwestern. Northwestern, 61 Iowa State, 60