Central Connecticut gave Northwestern a great challenge and while some fans will be frustrated Northwestern didn’t beat this mid-major opponent by more points, Central Connecticut State has some very good players. Kyle Vinales scored 27 for the Blue Devils and Kyle Horton scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as the Devils tried to upset the Wildcats. I really believe that while Central Connecticut State and Stony Brook aren’t big name mid-major teams these are decent wins for Northwestern because both have a shot to make the NCAA Tournament. Getting wins over NCAA teams, even mid/low-major NCAA teams, isn’t a bad thing. Does Northwestern have to play better if they want to make the NCAA Tournament? For sure, but at least winning games builds a winning attitude.
Probably the biggest concern for Northwestern is that John Shurna has struggled with his shot in two of the last three games NU has played. Shurna scored 12 points and grabbed 8 rebounds which looks on the face of it like an okay game, but the fact was he struggled on offense. He made only 3-of-14 shots and only hit one three pointer. I will say that I thought he played hard on defense and while Central Connecticut State did have some players put up decent numbers, I think Northwestern defended them better than some of their previous opponents. The bottom line, though, is that for Northwestern to really be a strong team John Shurna needs to score and needs to be effective from three point range. Whatever he has to do to get himself focused it is critical he do so soon.
A major positive for Northwestern today was the play of Reggie Hearn. Hearn scored a career high 17 points, made all four of his three point attempts, and just overall was fantastic as far as his effort on the court. Plus, he took a nice pass from Luka Mirkovic and made an and-1 layup which sealed the game for NU. At the start of the season nobody probably envisioned Reggie Hearn as the go to clutch player for Northwestern, but he excelled in that role today.
Drew Crawford also made a clutch shot late and made several other tough shots in the lane during the game. Crawford didn’t shoot great from three point range today, but I liked the fact he didn’t seem to let that get him down and made an effort to make things happen by driving the ball at the basket. He’s developed a nice assortment of shots and I think he’ll be a key player in Big Ten play because he’s better than most of NU’s guys at getting his own shot.
Another Wildcat player who can get his own shot is JerShon Cobb. Still recovering from injury, Cobb played 16 minutes and scored 9 points. He made two nice pull-up jump shots and hit a three. The biggest key to Cobb becoming a great player is that he develops a consistent three point shot. If that happens, he might become NU’s best player.
Northwestern plays tomorrow against Eastern Illinois who enters the game at 6-3. The Panthers just lost to fellow instate rival Western Illinois to snap a three game win streak. EIU has some talent including Jeremy Granger who scored 18 in the loss to WIU. NU needs to refocus quickly and hopefully give a full 40 minute effort tomorrow.