A solid second half which saw Northwestern shoot 71.4% and outscore Penn State by 15 was enough for NU to beat Penn State 68-56 for their first Big Ten win of the season. The win was the Wildcats first over Penn State in their last seven tries and moved the Wildcats record in their last 46-3 in their last 49 games against unranked opponents. The game didn’t start great as Penn State led 26-23 at the half and NU got outrebounded by 11 in the first half and looked sluggish. Thankfully, the ‘Cats rebounded in the second half thanks to some hot shooting and a stronger defensive effort keyed by Alex Marcotullio’s effort off the bench.
Aside from Marcotullio who I will talk about more a little later, I think Drew Crawford stood out above the rest of the Wildcats tonight. Drew played very strong defense on Tim Frazier helping hold the Penn State star to 16 points and forcing 4 turnovers. In addition, Crawford led the Wildcats in scoring 21 points and being assertive towards the hoop, but within the offense. The result was him taking just two threes, but making both and converting going towards the hoop on several occasions early in the second half. When Drew plays within the offense and plays with confidence he can be a special player.
I was also once again impressed with Dave Sobolewski. He played hard and early on seemed to be the only Wildcat who was focused on the game. For the day Sobolewski scored a career high 20 points and I was pleased he did so in a variety of ways. Yes, he was notable as a three point shooter, but he also found several routes towards the hoop to drive and score. Adding that skill to his game will make Sobo a better threat throughout the Big Ten season.
John Shurna was the third Wildcat in double figures with 17 points. It was a solid game. However, it was clear Penn State was very focused on stopping him. As a result, I’m starting to think Coach Carmody needs to go into his files and find some of his set plays which are geared towards getting one guy a shot. The Princeton Offense is great, but it is truly an offense which is set to get an open shot for whoever is open. At times you need to get your best player a shot and those special plays can make that happen when the defense is overly focused on him.
As promised earlier I want to talk about Alex Marcotullio. I thought it was notable that Northwestern played harder when Marcotullio was on the floor. His hustle on defense and his effort to fight for rebounding despite his small size seemed to motivate Luka Mirkovic and some of the bigger Wildcats to fight on the boards as well. I’m leaning towards starting Marcotullio if I’m Bill Carmody, but we’ll have to wait and see.
The major areas of concern for Northwestern continue to be free throw shooting and rebounding. Luka Mirkovic did grab 11 rebounds for NU, but Penn State still outrebounded the Wildcats by nine. Free throw shooting was simply bad with the center position going 2-for-9. I know Luka and Davide can play better and I hope we see that at the free throw line and all over on offense on Wednesday.