Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Close Win Finally Arrives for Northwestern

Well, that was a lot like the Michigan games or the Illinois game or the Purdue game, but the difference was the end result was a Northwestern win. NU still struggled a bit down the stretch as they couldn’t hit a field goal in the final three minutes, but two clutch free throws by John Shurna were enough to allow NU to escape with a 67-66 victory and move to 7-9 in the Big Ten. The target for NU seems to in some ways be on the move based on a loss by N.C. State and a win by Purdue (and what happens in the Illinois-Iowa game tomorrow), but I think we all know that if NU didn’t win this game it would have presented a huge obstacle to seeing NU in the NCAA Tournament.

Really, I can’t say enough about how well John Shurna played in this game. Having been man handled by Penn State all night, he got smashed as soon as he caught the ball on NU’s final possession (the point where a foul should have been called), tried to turn around, was hit on the arm slightly (where the foul was called), walked to the line and sank two free throws with the game (and maybe NU’s postseason fate) on the line. That was to go along with 21 other points, 6 assists, and 5 blocks. If the rest of NU’s team would give the same effort Shurna did the ‘Cats would win games like this easily.

The fact is that while Penn State coach Patrick Chambers might not have liked the final call, Shurna was fouled so many times in this game without getting a whistle it was almost ridiculous. I don’t know what else the kid has to due to earn respect for the officials, but the result was the same against Michigan. Teams beat up Shurna and nothing gets called. You can bet that other Big Ten stars would get those calls.

As we’ve talked about before, Northwestern generally wins games when they shoot the ball well because they can’t play defense at all. Today was a great example of that as NU made 15 three points (including a 4-of-5 day from Drew Crawford and a 4-of-6 day from Alex Marcotullio). However, NU’s 1-3-1 was probably the worst it had been all season. Penn State got countless layups and dunks and just made the ‘Cats look like an embarrassment on defense. As bad as Northwestern is defensively, they can do better than what they did tonight. I still think more effort should be put into man-to-man defense, but I’m starting to see some defensive weaknesses there as Drew Crawford really doesn’t look like a great man-to-man defender when I watch closely despite the fact that his athletic skill would make one think he would be. Hopefully so improvement will happen so where between now and the Ohio State game or that could be a feast for the Buckeyes solid front court.

Regardless, I think we do need to feel could about NU’s first win at Penn State in about a decade because I’m sure there were some mental barriers in playing in the Jordan Center. It’s also a road win which is nice as NU plays another critical road game in a week at Iowa. Now, though, the ‘Cats will look forward to senior night in Evanston on Wednesday. Hopefully, winning a close game also helps get NU over a barrier as last year’s home game vs Ohio State was another contest in which NU couldn’t make the last clutch play. Maybe now that they have they will again.

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