On the road at Assembly Hall Northwestern played a very solid first half making 11 three pointers and taking a halftime lead of 9 points. However, led by Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis the Illinois Fighting Illini came back to top the ‘Cats with solid play in the second half and the overtime period.
Northwestern did an excellent job in the first half making threes. Jeremy Nash in particular was excellent with 4 first half threes. However, perhaps the ‘Cats ability to make threes in the first half harmed the ‘Cats in the second half. In the second half the ‘Cats made just 3-of-24 threes and seemed to force many of those three point shots. When NU started going inside in the second half John Shurna converted a number of easy baskets, but the Illini had already gotten back in the game by that point. Based in part of those second half baskets, as well as four threes, Shurna was the ‘Cats leading scorer with 27 points. He also added 7 rebounds and four assists.
The ‘Cats leading rebounder was freshman Drew Crawford who had 8 rebounds. Five of those came on the offensive glass including one key rebound put-back dunk which kept NU in the game. Crawford wasn’t great shooting the ball (5-of-13 overall, 2-of-7 three), but his overall performance was solid for a young freshman in his first Big Ten game.
Crawford’s freshman teammate Alex Marcotullio was solid as well with 13 points (4-of-9 threes), however, he struggled somewhat defensively allowing Illinois’s guards to make easy passes to the post.
Overall, the biggest negative for Northwestern was on the defensive end of things. The ‘Cats started well in the man-to-man, but switched to the 1-3-1 and didn’t get the regular production of turnovers generally expected. To be honest, I thought NU was the least aggressive in the 1-3-1 they have been all season. Some of that might have been a result of Illinois being more athletic at the guard spots than NU’s past opponents. However, that’s no excuse. If Northwestern wants to play 1-3-1 they have to produce turnovers. Otherwise teams will take advantage of the fact the zone leaves shooters open or forces mismatches under the basket. Illinois was masterful with this. The Illini comeback was basically tied to NU not switching out of the 1-3-1 when it wasn’t working. Mike Tisdale scored 31 points and much of those came on mismatches or put-backs and Mike Davis scored 20 points and got 17 rebounds. Perhaps the three key plays were the two rebound put-back baskets those two got to start OT and the wide open corner three from Bill Cole late in the 2nd half which in the end forced NU only to be able to tie the game at the end of regulation and not win the game.
News and Notes: Michael “Juice” Thompson (7 points, 8 assists) left the game late with some type of ankle injury…Northwestern’s women’s basketball team has an equally tough test tomorrow (Thursday) vs #6 Ohio State...The men's hoops game vs #11 Michigan State is a sell-out, but football season ticket holders can still get seats under the basket.