(ed. note: big win, thanks once again to Loretta for recapping it. For those of you keeping an eye on the ACC today, there's this post. For those of you wondering about basketball, well, we play Iowa State today, so, that should be good too. It's a good time to be an NU sports fan.)
Northwestern basketball got by far its biggest win of the young season, beating 23rd ranked Notre Dame in the opening round of the Chicago Invitational Challenge. John Shurna had by far the best game of his career, scoring a career high 25 points and adding 8 rebounds. Michael Thompson had 20 points and Alex Marcotullio added 13 off the bench, with 8 of them coming in crunch time to help Northwestern pull away.
The key to the game for Northwestern was their defense, as they held the Irish to just 31% shooting and 22% from 3 point range. Notre Dame All-American Luke Harangody did have 21 points, but he was just 7-19 from the field and had very few easy looks. The NU zone clogged the middle and forced the Irish to beat them with perimeter jump shots, as 31 of their 63 field goal attempts were from beyond the arc. And Notre Dame's supporting cast couldn't come through, as Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis, who both came into the game shooting over 60% from 3 point range, combined to go just 3 for 16 from distance. Jeremy Nash and Alex Marcotullio both did a great job at the top of the NU zone, constantly pressuring the ball and keeping the Irish on the perimeter. I've been very very impressed with Marcotullio's effort on defense, I was expecting a guy who couldn't do anything except shoot, but he's been making an impact on defense as well. Last game he hurt his right thumb diving for a loose ball and had to wrap it for this game, but it didn't seem to bother him.
On offense, the 'Cats took great care of the ball, turning the ball over just 6 times the entire game. John Shurna was fantastic, scoring in all sorts of ways. In the first half he drove hard to the basket and dunked over Hansbrough, and capped off the half by hitting a 30 foot bomb to give NU a 3 point lead going into the locker room. He also made some nice moves in the low post, and hit all 4 of his free throws. Michael Thompson was held in check in the first half, mostly due to excellent defense from Irish point guard Tory Jackson, but he hit 2 big threes to open the 2nd half, and calmly hit all 6 of his free throws down the stretch.
But as good as those two were, Alex Marcotullio hit the two biggest shots of the night for Northwestern. The 'Cats held a 12 point lead midway through the 2nd half, but the Irish had rallied to within 1, and memories of last season's late game collapses were on the minds of NU fans. Marcotullio halted the Irish run by burying a 3 with a hand in his face to NU a 55-51 point lead with about 4 minutes to go. Then with the Irish within 2, he hit another bomb to give the 'Cats a 61-56 lead with 2 minutes left. Shurna made a slashing lay-up on NU's next possesion for a 7 point lead, and then Northwestern hit their free throws to make the final margin not as close as the game really was.
The only negative from this game for NU was the play of the centers. Kyle Rowley played 12 completely worthless minutes, as he had more fouls (2) than points, rebounds and assists combined (1 rebound). A couple times he tried to post up, and just looked hopeless. One of his hook shot attempts missed the rim by at least a foot. Luka Mirkovic was ok, finishing with 8 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists, but he's way way too tentative near the basket. He seems content to shoot the ball going away from the defender instead of taking it up strong and trying draw fouls. On one play he pulled down an offensive rebound right under the basket, and instead of taking it up strong he dribbled out to the perimeter and threw up a 15 foot fadeaway with a defender right on him. Compared to Rowley in the post he looks like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but he's still got a lot of work to do. I'd like to seem focus more on rebounding and setting up his teammates out of the high post instead of trying to get his own shot in the low post. I'd also like to see Davide Curletti replace Rowley in the rotation, I can't describe just how bad Rowley was, it was painful to watch.
Overall though, this was an excellent performance against a good team. I'm not sure Notre Dame is worthy of being a top 25 team, as they were an NIT team last year and haven't beaten anyone good this year, but there's no doubt they are an NCAA tournament contender and a solid team, and a win like this has to be a huge confidence booster for Northwestern. Like everyone else, I expected very little from this team after Coble went down, but against my will I'm starting to get optimistic. I'll have more to say tomorrow, with a preview of the matchup with Iowa State tomorrow night, but until then let's enjoy a great win. Go 'Cats!
edit: I don't know if NUBears will put up highlights of this game, as he's probably still busy doing an amazing job with football highlights, but those will be up tomorrow as well if he makes them
(Rodger again. Yeah, here: