Okay, everyone can relax now. John Shurna still knows how to make three pointers. After an abysmal performance against Central Connecticut State, Shurna rebounded just over 24 hours later today to score 32 points total and make 9-of-12 threes. The performance left him one made three short of the Big Ten record for made threes in a game and officially tied for the NU record (NU did have Kenneth “Dion” Lee hit 10 threes in a game but NU voided Lee’s record when he was involved with a gambling scandal). Perhaps the most impressive thing about Shurna’s day was he clearly came into the game still confident even after his poor game yesterday. Shurna took shots early and although he missed his first, once he caught fire he seemed unstoppable. I feel like the only reason he didn’t hit a 10th three was that he didn’t get another shot. He also dished out 5 assists and found a number of teammates for open looks which helped the Wildcats make 54.2% of their shots.
Really, it seems like NU has a number of players who can step up and make big shots. Yesterday’s hero Reggie Hearn only attempted one shot (and missed) but Shurna got scoring support from Luka Mirkovic, Drew Crawford, and Dave Sobolewski who all scored in double figures.
Mirkovic is a player who we all agree can be frustrating, but he’s also critically important to Northwestern’s success. Today, Luka played one of his best games scoring 18 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, and dishing out 7 assists. Yes, the competition from Eastern Illinois wasn’t spectacular, but Luka has the potential to play at a high level. He just somehow needs to find consistency. Can he do that in next 20-some games of his career when he hasn’t in three-plus years? I don’t know, but I’m holding out hope he can. You never really know what is going to cause someone to change their outlook and approach and I think we all agree Luka’s biggest issues are in his head. Yes, he’s not Jared Sullinger, but he’s still a Big Ten center. Somewhere along the way between now and the final game of his career in purple maybe he’ll realize that.
Drew Crawford is another player who NU needs to get consistent and unlike Mirkovic it seems Crawford has made it to a point in his career where he can be a consistent threat to score the basketball and help run offense even if his three point shot isn’t falling. Today despite making just one three, he scored 14 points and provide 6 assists against 0 turnovers. He also stuffed the stat sheet with 3 steals, 3 blocks, and 7 rebounds.
Another NU player who consistently plays well is guard Dave Sobolewski. Taking over for Juice Thompson is not an easy task, but so far Sobolewski has been up to the task. Today he scored 12 points and tabulated 3 assists while only turning the ball over once.
The biggest issues I leave this game with are related to defense and free throw shooting. With all the shooters Northwestern has they should be a good free throw shooting team. Therefore, I’m hoping they’ll step up that aspect of their game very soon. The bigger concern has to be defense. Northwestern has success with using the 1-3-1, but they can’t become overly reliant on that defense. Early in the year NU’s man-to-man was somewhat better, but it seemed to slack at bit recently. Against Baylor it was talent issue and perhaps the last couple days it was simply exhaustion. Nonetheless, the way NU plays man-to-man needs to be better quickly because the ‘Cats have two tough road games in the next 10 days, but those tough games also make for great opportunities. As I wrote a couple days ago, change may be a process and not an event, but at some point in that process one needs to take advantage of the chances the events along that process present.