In front of a large Michigan crowd, but also his father, NBA official Danny Crawford, Northwestern freshman guard Drew Crawford scored 25 points and proved the key force in getting the Wildcats a much needed 68-62 victory over Michigan in Ann Arbor. If Northwestern wants to make the NCAA Tournament they probably need at least three Big Ten road wins and after the loss to Illinois this was a much needed W.
The Wildcats fell down 31-14 with a little over four and a half minutes to go in the first half and things looked like they were in danger of getting ugly. However, Drew Crawford went of a personal 11-0 run to bring the Wildcats back into the game before half. In the second half, Crawford added 13 more points including the dunk of the year (even better than his own dunk against Illinois) on a put-back of a Jeremy Nash missed layup to help the ‘Cats pull out a hard fought victory. In sum total, Crawford added 8 rebounds and a steal to his 25 points. Of those 25 points, 12 came from three point range and an impressive 7 came from the free throw line. His free throws included four huge free throws which to first give NU a 63-62 lead and another two to extend that advantage. The only criticism would be he did have five turnovers. Those TOs are somewhat excusable, however, because this was really the first time in Drew’s college career he was being looked to as a go-to guy in a conference contest. I think NU will now look to Crawford even more. I am confident he’ll be able to deliver solid double figure efforts, especially if his teammates continue to get him open looks.
Part of the reason Crawford managed to get looks was a surprisingly big game from Luka Mirkovic who scored 13 points and had 8 rebounds and 4 assists. Mirkovic used his height advantage on DeShawn Dims to get some easy looks at the basket and he converted the majority of them. If Mirkovic can continue this type of performance it will be a huge lift for Northwestern as pressure will come off on NU’s primary three point shooters.
Aside from Crawford and Mirkovic, the Wildcats also got solid games from both Michael “Juice” Thompson and John Shurna. Through both were nearly invisible in the first half, they both finished in double figures. Thompson scored 15 points and Shurna netted 11. The fact NU staged its comeback, and even built at 10 point lead, when both these guys were scoring shows something critical. If both Thompson and Shurna both have big games, and they can do so against Big Ten teams, Northwestern is nearly impossible to beat. This is akin to Kevin Coble and Craig Moore last season. Often times teams stop one or the other, but when they both score the Wildcats can get any shot they want. The good news is with Crawford emerging, and possibly Mirkovic as well, Thompson and Shurna should be able to get better shots because defenses can’t just focus on them.
Speaking of defense, I have to say I was really worried when I saw NU play 1-3-1 in the first half and Michigan started drilling threes. At first, I couldn’t believe Bill Carmody didn’t switch out it in the second half, but the Wildcats made their coach look smart by increasing the intensity in the 1-3-1 in half number two. Jeremy Nash got a couple steals and tipped a ton more passes and it actually seemed like if NU had played with that same intensity early in the game they would have won by 15. Regardless, the ‘Cats did get the win, but they probably will not be able to play such a lackluster first half and still win in their next two games against Wisconsin and Purdue.
A couple other areas NU will need to improve before welcoming two top-20 teams to Welsh-Ryan include bench production and free throw shooting. Northwestern scored zero (0) bench points today. Now, I’ll admit the starters played a lot of minutes, but both Kyle Rowley and Alex Marcotullio had chances to score. I’ll get to Rowley in a second because it relates to point two. On Marcotullio, I fear he has hit a freshman wall. Crawford might avoid such a problem because he looks like he can physically stand up to the rigor and intensity of the Big Ten basketball games and practice every day. On the other hand, Marcotullio isn’t physically at the same point as Crawford. Marcotullio still looks like a high school player. Now, he’s had very good year, but right now I think he is probably a little beat up and exhausted. Hopefully, he’ll break through that wall soon.
On point number two, other than Drew Crawford going 7-for-8, Northwestern struggled from the free throw line. Kyle Rowley missed two free throws, Jeremy Nash made only 2-of-4 (and is in a major slump after being automatic early) and Juice made just 1-of-2. If NU wants to upset Wisconsin and/or Purdue they must take advantage of free throw attempts.
Finally, I want to give some props to two people. First, to Nick Fruendt who played just one minute, but broke into the scorebook with a key steal. Also, to Loretta8 from Sippin’ On Purple who wrote the only preview I read which predicted a Northwestern win.
The Wildcats are at home Wednesday against Wisconsin. I haven’t officially heard if it is a sell-out, but I suspect it will be by tip off, so let’s get as much purple in there as possible because I know there will be red.