Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said after the game his team played “decently” in their 81-65 win over Long Island. That description seems apt to me as I wasn’t overly impressed walking away from tonight’s contest, but I it certainly didn’t fall in the category of a “non-loss” as opposed to win as some other past NU non-conference games over the years have.
Basically, NU used an outstanding game from John Shurna (as long as he wasn’t at the free throw line), a good start from JerShon Cobb, okay defense on the perimeter resulting in nine steals, and a few highlight reel plays from Drew Crawford and Juice Thompson to get away with tonight’s victory in spite of shooting just 13-of-25 from the free throw line and playing what Carmody called “not good” interior defense.
After not playing for 13 days rust is almost always a factor. I watched Ohio State return to action after a long break recently and I think the ‘Cats played a better game tonight than the Buckeyes when took the court after the end of their finals vs IUPUI. That said, if not for JerShon Cobb starting off the game with two early threes and a two, NU would have started very slowly. Thankfully, NU parleyed Cobb’s nice start into an early lead after LIU jumped ahead in the games opening moments. Cobb finished the day 4-of-9 overall, but made 3-of-4 threes, dished out 3 assists to only 1 turnover and set a new career-high with 12 points. If not for picking up early fouls he might have done more.
Fouls were a problem for Northwestern as they committed 14 in the first half. If Long Island wasn’t nearly as bad as Northwestern from the line the game might have been closer. LIU made just 16-of-30 free throws. They also helped NU by committing 15 turnovers while only dishing out 9 assists. Basically, LIU played offense by driving to the basket and trying to get fouled. NU, on the other hand, did execute the Princeton Offense very well at times and finished the game with 24 assists on 29 made field goals. That’s assists on 83% of the team’s made shots which is a sure signal the Princeton Offense is working. The best play in my mind was when John Shurna tossed a backdoor alley-op to Drew Crawford. It showed me that Shurna is as good of passer as he is shooter and that NU isn’t afraid to incorporate their explosiveness into their regular sets. After all, the play was simply a backdoor play that Tim Doyle might have tossed to Craig Moore except that with Crawford as the recipient the play can take place above the rim and become much tougher to spot. That’ll be huge in Big Ten play.
Speaking of Shurna and Crawford, both had good moments and bad moments in this game. Shurna’s 10-of-11 from the field for 26 points along with 7 rebounds and 7 assists with a number of highlight reel shots and dunks are hard to complain about, but his 4-of-10 free throw shooting cost him a 30-point night (which could be huge in his battle for the league scoring title) and might have made a big difference in a closer game. Crawford had two big dunks tonight as both the above mentioned alley-op and a put-back slam brought the crowd to its feet. However, I also saw a lot of forcing shots in his 4-of-16 shooting night. One thing I think Crawford could learn from Shurna is to let the game come to him a bit. Early on Shurna wasn’t getting shots, but he was still finding a way to win by setting up Cobb and Thompson for baskets. On the other hand, Crawford seemed anxious to get going and settled for some bad looks. I’ve seen this tendency in Crawford to get hungry for points more so than pretty much any of his teammates. I think he needs to watch what Shurna does on film and see that on a team with Shurna, Thompson, Cobb, and even guys who can heat up like Alex Marcotullio, Luka Mirkovic, and Davide Curletti that forcing shots isn’t what anybody needs to do.
Part of the credit for this game being kind of close has to go to LIU’s offensive approach which was very aggressive. NU played mostly the matchup zone/switching man-to-man, but again revealed major weaknesses in defending penetration. Somehow, NU needs to learn how to move their feet and when to move and help a player who gets beat. As a result of LIU’s approach both Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti hit early foul trouble. Curletti probably had the better day with 7 points and 2 rebounds to Luka’s 2 points and 6 rebounds, though, neither probably felt great about tonight. In Luka’s case, I think he has the opposite problem of Crawford. Luka is often times very unaggressive and doesn’t seem to really attack the glass. Personally, if I were Bill Carmody I think could care less if Mirkovic ever scored, but I believe I’d find myself nearly in tears begging him to get consistently aggressive attacking the boards and playing defense. Carmody even said after the game that NU’s poor inside defense “didn’t bode well” for facing 6-9 American University dynamo Vlad Moldoveanu who scores about 22 points a game.
That’s Thursday, though. Right now, I think NU needs to go home, feel good about being 6-0 for 12 hours or so, and then comeback to the gym tomorrow morning and work on free throw shooting, and playing help defense in order to get ready for American University.