Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Record Set: Northwestern Beats Chicago State 72-49 and Sets School Record for Wins
In a game that started extremely sloppy on both sides, Northwestern emerged with a 72-49 victory on Wednesday night. The outcome of the contest remained somewhat in doubt until late in the first half when the Wildcats closed that half on a 10-2 run. That run was keyed by three pointers from freshman guard Alex Marcotullio and senior guard Jeremy Nash. Nash was playing his final regular season home game in Welsh-Ryan Arena tonight. He started slowly, but finished with 7 points, 4 steals, and 3 assists. Early on it seemed like the Wildcats were working too hard to force a spectacular play from Nash. For example, John Shurna overshot his teammate on two ally-oop attempts early on. Thankfully, Nash got into the scorebook a little later with a dunk off a steal and then followed a Marcotullio three with a big three. As a result of those shots, before Chicago State seemed to realize what happened, the Cougars went from down to two points to down double digits and never got back into the game.
The fact Chicago State stuck around for most of the first half shows Northwestern wasn’t perfect tonight. They did play better defense forcing 19 turnovers, including 14 steals. However, in the first half the Cougars did penetrate NU’s 1-3-1 zone for some very easy looks. In the second half, NU seemed to extend the zone and put a little more pressure on passers. The result was Chicago State seemed less comfortable making passes. Much of the credit for that goes to Marcotullio. Though most people will look at the fact he made 5-of-7 threes to score 15 points, fans shouldn’t ignore the defensive pressure Marcotullio puts on teams at the top of the 1-3-1. Some of that is natural instinct and some he likely learned from watching teammate Jeremy Nash, but I have to say that I think that though NU was miss Nash’s athletic skill, they will still be able to play 1-3-1 with Alex Marcotullio on the floor. Marcotullio also has to get credit for his 3 assists against 0 turnovers tonight. With fellow freshman Drew Crawford (1-of-7 FGs, 2 points) still clearly hurt, it is important for Marcotullio to contribute in multiple ways. He can’t just be a shooter or just be a defender. He needs to play an all around game and he did so tonight.
Aside from Marcotullio, NU got double figures from reliable contributors Michael “Juice” Thompson and John Shurna. Thompson finished with 13 points and 5 assists. He made 3-of-6 threes to reach that total, but his best shot was a runner in the lane with the shot clock running down. John Shurna scored 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting, but I’d still like to see him attack the basket more. Today, 7 of his shots were threes. With his skill, and often a size advantage, Shurna shouldn’t have to settle for taking threes. He should be able to go to the hoop and have wide open threes as result later. As far as other numbers, Shurna just missed a double-double as he finished with 9 rebounds. He also added 6 assists and 4 steals.
Off the bench, NU got solid minutes from Davde Curletti and Mike Capocci. Culetti played 18 minutes and finished with 4 points and 6 rebounds. Those totals are solid, but Curletti scored all of his points from the free throw line and only made 50% of those tires. For a guy who is a skilled three point shooter to make only 50% of his free throws is unacceptable. NU needs to continue to feed Curletti and NU starting center Luka Mirkovic down low, but both centers must improve their free throw shooter if NU is going to do damage in the postseason.
Mike Capocci scored a season-high 8 points and also had 4 rebounds and 2 blocks. One of the blocks was a spectacular block off the backboard as Capocci hustled the court to ensure a turnover didn’t become an easy basket. With his athletic ability, Capocci offers NU some nice options. The key to keeping him on the court will be to limit his turnovers and make sure he makes smart choices with the ball in terms of passes and shot selection.
As the players left the court today, many young fans approached them for autographs. If that is the final image of the 2009-10 season at Welsh-Ryan Arena, I can live with that. It was a nice moment. Plus, I’m sure both the players and their young fans enjoyed the experience. However, NU might be back at Welsh-Ryan Arena hosting a postseason game. If that happens, I hope NU far exceeds tonight’s attendance of 3,757. Welsh-Ryan ended up a great home court advantage for the 'Cats this year and that’s credit to all the fans who stepped through the arena’s doors. If NU plays at home in the postseason, those fans and many more need to return wearing purple to help push the Wildcats season deep in to March.