Northwestern took the lead on the game’s first possession with a dunk from Drew Crawford. They extended their lead at halftime to 40-29 with a dunk from Mike Capocci. They finished with a 78-61 victory when Ivan Peljusic hit a fade-away. The win keeps NU undefeated at home against unranked opponents and gives the ‘Cats their first three game winning streak over Indiana since 1932. The victory was also NU’s second double-figure win in a row against a conference team. NU’s next game is on the road in Iowa City and this victory makes that contest even more critical for NU’s potential tournament hopes.
How did NU manage to grab today’s lead and hold it the entire game? I believe NU got one their best all around efforts of the season. The ball movement on offense was crisp which set up 10 made threes and a number of other open looks which just missed. The defensive effort was solid overall too. NU blocked 9 shots (John Shurna with 3), grabbed 26 defensive rebounds (Jeremy Nash with 10 rebounds overall), and forced Indiana to 35.3% shoot overall and 11.8% from three. If NU hadn’t committed a ridiculous number of fouls, which allowed IU to get 23 points from the line, Indiana might not have broken 50 points in the game. Aside from the fouls (most of which I thought were good calls if the officials wanted to strictly enforce the rules) Northwestern played outstanding defense. The Wildcats helped and hedged on screens very well, they contested virtually every three point look (which resulted in Jordan Hulls and Devan Dumes going 0-for-8 total), and switched to the 1-3-1 at the exact right time in order to protect against fouls and force Indiana to run off a lot of clock before getting a shot. Indivudally, Luka Mirkovic had 2 steals and overall played well in man-to-man defensive against some on Indiana’s athletic players. He got beat a few times, but forced some bad shots from the Hoosiers as well.
On offense, NU had great balance. All five starters were in double figures. John Shurna lead with the way with 16 points on 5-of-8 made threes and dished out 6 assists as well. Shurna looked remarkably comfortable shooting the ball today. Even some of his misses seemed right on the money. Hopefully, he’ll bring the same accuracy to Iowa City as against the slowdown style of the Hawkeyes, every possess counts.
Luka Mirkovic was mentioned above for defense, but he also scored 14 points, grabbed 4 rebounds, and dished out two assist. One of those assists was a key drop-down pass to Drew Crawford at a time when NU’s three point range went a little south and the ‘Cats needed a basket.
Drew Crawford finished with 10 points and 5 rebounds. He had some foul trouble and missed all his three point attempts, but it was good to see Crawford still make a difference even when his shot wasn’t falling.
Michael “Juice” Thompson scored 12 points and had 6 assists in 37 minutes today. Thanks to some foul trouble, Thompson’s 37 minutes actually were slightly below his average giving him a couple mini-rests. When he was on the bench, though, you could tell how NU wasn’t as comfortable on offense. When he came back into the game, NU seemed to stabilize. Thompson had, I think, one of his best assists of the year when he found Jeremy Nash on a sideline cut to setup an and-1 play from Nash.
Speaking of Nash, he was without a doubt the game’s MVP. He recorded his first double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. He made a couple big shots both from three point range and going to the rim. Nash still isn’t exactly 100% at going to the hoop, and I’d love to see him try to dunk in order to draw more fouls, but he’s become a real threat with the ball both inside and outside which makes him a serious matchup problem for NU opponents. In addition, he had two blocks on amazing plays where it looked like Indiana would have sure open shots, but Nash’s hustle said otherwise.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning NU got 13 bench points today. Some of those came late, but Alex Marcotullio did hit a key early three and Mike Capocci scored 4 of his 6 points when NU needed something to happen in the first half. Kyle Rowley also added 2 points and 3 rebounds to NU’s bench totals.
NU now takes on Iowa in Iowa City. If the ‘Cats can get that victory it will setup a key showdown a week from today in Evanston against Tubby Smith’s Minnesota Golden Gophers.