Thanks to some clutch free throw shooting from Dave Sobolewski and Jared Swopshire Northwestern survived a strong comeback effort from Illinois State and remarkable shooting from ISU’s Tyler Brown to win the South Padre Island Invitational. With the win Northwestern has now won 21 straight November games and captured a preseason tournament title for the second consecutive year.
ISU never let up and thanks to Brown’s shooting and stayed in the game until the last buzzer sounded. ISU is a good team and this win is something which could potentially help boost NU’s case to the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee come March. However, what to me was more significant was that NU won the game at the free throw line. Consistent free throw shooting was something NU lacked at times last season and was costly in several games. Today NU went 23-of-27 from the line with huge clutch shooting from several players. Specifically, Sobolewski, Swopshire, and Drew Crawford all hit big free throws down the stretch.
The free throw shooting was also significant because of the fact that NU’s overall 34% shooting was not good. For the second night in a row NU survived a tough game without shooting great. Making nine three pointers tonight helped, but a lot of credit has to go to guys stepping up from the line in the clutch and good defense. I liked that NU chose the right spot to throw on the 1-3-1 for the first time this season and it looked like ISU was a little perplexed with how to attack it.
Mike Turner got the majority of the minutes at center and though he had some turnover issues he did play well in the middle of that zone and grabbed 10 rebounds. Also, he dished out four assists on offense. If he can get more comfortable shooting he has potential as does starter Alex Olah who sat most of today’s game due to ISU’s speed.
Drew Crawford will probably be maligned for another poor shooting performance (6-of-20) but I feel like you have to give him credit for his 9 rebounds and three steals. Also, he did score 20 points and made one of the toughest shots of the night hanging in the air to hit a short floater. Hopefully, Crawford will hit a higher percentage Tuesday, but he did alright tonight.
Finally, Jared Swopshire was awarded the MVP of the tournament and that is well deserved. Not only did he post a double-double today with 15 points and 10 rebounds, but his solid defense and clear leadership role with NU’s young players will be huge as the season continues.