Saturday, December 19, 2009

Northwestern Survives Stanford Rally, Poor Shooting From Three and Free to Win 70-62

Today’s contest was Northwestern’s most uneven performance since the narrow escape against Tennessee State, but just like that contest the Wildcats pulled themselves together well enough to post a victory. In the past, Northwestern would have collapsed after Stanford cut a 10 point advantage to a 1 point advantage, but like Alex Marcotullio did in a similar spot against TSU, Michael “Juice” Thompson knocked down a clutch three to prevent the Cardinal from getting a shot at the lead.

The high point for Northwestern had to be John Shurna’s play. While he still hasn’t caught fire from three point range (just 1-of-6) he converted 7-of-8 two point shots and 5-of-5 free throws to score 22 points. When Stanford had major foul trouble inside, I was disappointed NU didn’t try to post up Shurna more because he looked very solid against the Cardinal’s inside defenders. Shurna also grabbed 8 rebounds of which half came on the offensive glass and a few of which Shurna converted right into NU points. Somewhere between now and the Big Ten season John needs to regain his three point stroke, but at least his versatile skills allow him to remain a scoring threat even when threes aren’t falling.

Actually, the only Wildcat who looked to have range from three today (team was 6-of-25) was Juice Thompson who made 3-of-5 on route to 15 points. Thompson also had 4 assists and 2 steals. He also played virtually the entire game resting only for about 7 seconds late in the second half.

NU’s other double figure scorer was Drew Crawford who finished with 12 points. He scored 7 in the first half, but foul trouble forced him to the bench for most of the second half. Still, Crawford managed to add 4 rebounds and 2 blocks to his totals. He also hit two late free throws which sealed the game.

One thing NU did well overall was move the ball to setup good looks and easy drives to the hoop. As a result of that ball movement Stanford was forced to foul or allow NU easy baskets. Unfortunately, Northwestern somewhat struggled in taking advantage of all the Stanford fouls. The Wildcats shot 33 free throws, but made only 22. Luke Mirkovic made only 2-of-5 and Kyle Rowley missed his two attempts, so the center position really struggled at the line. Amazingly, NU actually had a stretch where they scored 11 straight points from the free throw line. If they’d shot better they might have scored 15 or more in a row from the line.

Other than the free throw issues, though, Mirkovic played well. He scored 9 points had 6 rebounds (5 in the 2nd half), and dished out 5 assists. He also hit a three which is big because it shows he might be gaining some consistent range from behind the arc.

Finally, one area where I felt NU unexpectedly struggled was off the bench. NU had only 5 bench points in their 70. Three points from Alex Marcotullio and two from Kyle Rowley. Rowley’s basket came on one of his better plays of the season when he found himself wide open and converted the look. Marcotullio scored on a nice runner going to the hoop and a free throw opportunity where he converted one of two. He surprisingly missed all four of three point shots, but the positive is he didn’t let it bother the rest of his game as he had two assists against no turnovers and three steals.

Northwestern plays Central Connecticut State on Tuesday before starting Big Ten play on December 30th. A win would give this NU team a better start than Coach Ricky Byrdsong’s 93-94 team that started 9-0, but then dropped 9 games so was 9-2 after 11 contests. It will also be another chance for NU to play an aggressive defensive team before taking a couple tough costumers in Illinois and Michigan State at the start of Big Ten play.

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