Northwestern started slow, exploded in the middle, and hung on late, but the end result was positive enough that the ‘Cats escaped with a 70-66 victory in Iowa City which puts NU at 8-10 in the Big Ten for the year and places the ‘Cats as the #7-seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Today’s win combined with a win on Thursday in the Big Ten Tournament against Minnesota will give NU a strong case for inclusion in the NCAA Tournament. A win on Thursday and Friday in the Big Ten Tournament will likely put NU into the 68-team field for certain.
Today’s win wasn’t easy. The ‘Cats were down 15 early and things looked kind of bleak. A switch to the 1-3-1 zone which continues to confound Iowa brought the ‘Cats back into the game and eventually allowed them to take a seven point halftime lead. That lead shrunk in the second half thanks to some good Iowa defense, but some clutch free throws by Dave Sobolewski and Alex Marcotullio allowed NU to get away with the win.
John Shurna was held in check by the Hawkeyes, but I was really impressed with the way the rest of NU’s team stepped up. Drew Crawford was the headliner as he scored 18 points and grabbed 7 rebounds. He also made 6-of-7 free throws after going 1-of-5 from the free throw line on Wednesday night. Crawford really does seem to determine his success based on his first shot and after his first free throw feel in today he had a great day at the line. He also had a career high 5 steals and was one of several Wildcats who was very active in the 1-3-1 zone.
Another Wildcat who was active in that zone was JerShon Cobb who scored 13 points and made several clutch shots. He might not be 100% yet, but his ability to be on the court and in the rotation has been huge as it allows NU to balance playing time a little more and be at least somewhat fresher in the game’s final moments than they were earlier this year.
Cobb combined with effective play from Reggie Hearn and Alex Marcotullio make Northwestern a team which has options and support for Drew and John. That support was there today. It really wasn’t vs Ohio State. If the NU stars get support from the supporting cast, then NU has a great chance to win games. Even David Curletti stepped up today with 7 points his four offensive rebounds helped NU get 11 second chance points which is a stat the ‘Cats rarely are strong in.
So now it’s on to the Big Ten Tournament and Minnesota. It should be a good matchup for NU in the sense that they should be able to employ the 1-3-1 zone thanks to Minnesota’s lack of depth shooting. The Gophers have athletes on the glass, but if NU turns them over and shots decently from three it seems like NU’s got a chance to get another biggest win in program history.