Northwestern’s players and coaches did so much well Saturday night in their one point loss to Ohio State that part of me is still confused by the fact NU didn’t win the game. Obviously, in the end it came down NU’s Alex Marcotullio waiting too long to make a backdoor pass to JerShon Cobb and then NU fouling Jared Sullinger who made 1-of-2 free throws. He really is an excellent player and it was long odds that he’d miss both foul shots with the game on the line. Drew Crawford’s 2-of-12 overall and 1-of-8 from three shooting day didn’t help NU’s upset bid as we all know Crawford is capable of much more and for Marcotullio who is one of NU’s best passers to throw the ball away is frustrating as well. I actually think Cobb was opened on the backdoor about a second and half before Marcotullio released the ball. In regards to Crawford, I once asked a former player if they thought any part of shooting was luck. I wanted to know why someone like Crawford could have everything go in one night and nothing on a night like tonight. I was told shooting has basically nothing to do with luck. When someone like Crawford makes his shots it’s because he is in rhythm with no nerves and is taking the time he needs to get off a shot, but when he is off like tonight he is likely somewhat nervous and is rushing his shot. Playing the number one team in the nation might be a reason to be nervous, but Crawford showed he was clearly the equal to many of the Buckeyes athletic players as he led NU’s rebounding effort which actually bested the Buckeyes 31-20. Truthfully, I think Drew might be the most frustrating player I’ve ever cheered for. He is more than capable of being an All-Big Ten type guy, but he has nights he looks like a walk-on could contribute the same numbers. Tonight he was somewhere in between, but somewhere between isn’t going to be good enough to beat #1.
I also feel like NU could have handled the end of the game better, but that’s now just dumb and fruitless second guessing. Still, what about a timeout after Sullinger missed the first free throw to make him think about it? Or, before that, what about with 46.2 seconds left when you’re inbounding trying to go with a quick three with a screen the screener play in order to get a two-for-one chance because you don’t want OSU with the last possession. Again, this is second guessing, but I want to offer these thoughts just to allow people to think about them. I mean obviously, NU’s game plan was solid tonight and as they always do they did a pretty good job on out of bounds plays, but it amazes me how Bill Carmody still seems struggle with end of game situations given how well he handles play calling at other points in the game.
I have to hand it to Juice Thompson who started slow, but had a big second half and clearly wasn’t afraid to hit the big shot. His 16 points and 8 assists are solid numbers, but just from watching the game you could tell how valuable Juice was to NU’s effort. This was a great example of leadership. While I think NU’s possession where Marcotullio turned the ball over might have resulted in a layup if Alex released his pass an instant sooner, I also don’t know why Juice didn’t get the ball.
I also have to give a big thumbs up to JerShon Cobb. He scored just 8 points, but like Drew Crawford showed he was as good an athlete as OSU’s guys as he pulled down 6 rebounds and played very nice defense in his 36 minutes. He also didn’t turn the ball over and to be honest seemed like one of NU’s most confident players.
Mike Capocci also played a very nice game before leaving with an injury. His 11 points actually led NU at the time he left. Considering NU was without their leading scorer and had the guy who was effectively replacing him on the bench for the game’s final 10 minutes makes the one point margin of loss even more remarkable. Still, the fact that Capocci got hurt in what was probably has best career game has to add to the feeling that NU hoops just can’t catch a break.
I also have to say that I thought NU’s team defense on Jared Sullinger wasn’t really all that bad. Luka Mirkovic, Davide Curletti and company battled him all night. Even the last play actually looked like it could have been considered a block if not for the body contact from the second defender. Luka and Davide combined didn’t have great night statically and looking back Davide’s missed free throw and Luka’s missed point blank layup on a great set play want to make you tear you hair out, but they gave commendable efforts.
At the end of the day, though, Ohio State is 22-0 and continues to survive close games. Northwestern is 13-8 and with eight games plus the Big Ten Tournament left it doesn’t look like they’ll be making the NCAA Tournament. I’m not even sure I see them in the NIT at this point. I know they made the NIT last year, but remember they were the last team in at 20-13 and I’m not sure I see NU getting a great many more wins this season. I sure am not counting either Penn State game as a win. Certainly, NU could run off eight straight wins and everything would change, but that isn’t a likely scenario. I do wonder if playing a slow paced game like tonight might be a better choice for NU when they play better teams in the future. They certainly didn’t look like they could run with Illinois and Wisconsin the first time and slow paced teams like Indiana and Penn State have beaten those squads.
I think what’s most disappointing about this loss is that it had the potential to be a unifying moment for the NU fan base. I think it is pretty clear that a lot of people want Bill Carmody fired. You don’t need to look to far on NU message boards, fan sites, or Welsh-Ryan Arena in order to see/hear examples of that feeling. If NU won this game I’m not sure how anyone could do anything other than support the coach. It would have been one of the biggest upsets in the history of college basketball (especially after Capocci joined Shurna on the DL) It seems ridiculous that Luka Mirkovic missing a point blank layup on what was actually a great play call by Carmody might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back as far as the coach goes, but I suspect the outcry from the people who want Carmody gone is going to start to grow now and if NU only wins two or three more games (which is very possible) I think Jim Phillips might have to listen. Whether you like Carmody or not you have to feel for the guy now, because basically, though parts of his coaching tonight weren’t great, essentially he stands a real chance of losing his job despite one of his best efforts as a coach. NU’s game plan tonight was spectacular and it wasn’t just Luka’s miss, NU ran a number of plays which got open shots which Crawford, Marcotullio, and Thompson missed. I guess you can say Carmody still deserves the blame because he recruited those guys, but when they’re on their game Crawford, Marcotullio, and Thompson are really as good of shooters as you’re going to get from guys who aren’t future NBAers and NU isn’t getting any future NBAers anytime soon. It really is too bad because this game could have been one of the best events ever for the Northwestern community and for our players and coaches who work so hard. Instead, it’s just another loss and it may in the end have an even higher cost than that for some of those involved.