(not to keep writing at the top of everything other people write, but this is rodger, and you all should check out this fanpost. G1000 made his first post a good one, it may seem ridiculously early to start talking tourney, but the early season has pretty much gone as well as anybody could've asked, even sans injuries. plus, i've had about 400 conversations discussing exactly what's written in that post in the last 24 hours, so, read it.)
Northwestern played their best half of the season to open the game at NC State, taking a 10 point lead to the locker room, and had the 'Cats hit some of the wide open threes they missed, it could have been a lot more. They were executing their offense to perfection, getting a lot of easy lay-ups and open jumpers, not turning the ball over, and playing strong defense.
But at halftime, they must have been watching the ESPN halftime shows talking about how Northwestern could be a tournament team, and got full of themselves and came out very flat for the 2nd half. There were turnovers, bad passes, forced shots, mental mistakes, defensive breakdowns, you name it. Had they been playing a top Big Ten team, they would have gotten run out of the gym. But two things kept them in the lead, the first that NC State couldn't knock down an open 3 if their life depended on it, and second that Michael Thompson put Northwestern on his back and made big play after big play down the stretch. The final margin was a comfortable 12 points, but this game was much closer than that.
The closest NC State got in the 2nd half was 4 points, as Alex Marcutullio lost his composure and stupidly threw an elbow for a technical foul, leading to a 4 point NC State possession. The Wolfpack student section, which had been silent for most of the night, was finally making some noise (and on that topic NC State students, when you boo like crazy every single time a foul is called on your team, you look really stupid, especially when that's the loudest you've been all game and the officials are doing a pretty good job) Anyways, the lead was in jeopardy, but Juice calmly ran the show at the point, drove to the basket and kicked it out to a wide open Marcotullio, who buried a 3 from the corner. For the rest of the game, with his younger teammates losing their composure and not playing under control, Thompson looked totally calm, and showed tremendous leadership down the stretch, finishing with 22 points with most of them in the second half. Without Thompson, this game likely would have finished much like the debacle vs Illinois last year.
It's a testament to how far this program has come that in a double digit road win over an ACC team I have a lot of complaints about how the game went. A lot of the problems were somewhat expected, as underclassmen often struggle to maintain their composure on the road. Marcotullio, who's been so poised all season, was the biggest offender in his first career road game, but Shurna was invisible in the 2nd half after a great first half, and once again Rowley couldn't touch the ball without turning it over. Northwestern also struggled when Jeremy Nash had to go to the bench with 4 fouls. Nash had another big game with 12 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals. I know I mention it in every post, but I still can't get over how much Nash has improved on offense, it's remarkable how much better he is.
I was disappointed that Curletti didn't get into the game until late, as once again Rowley got the start and couldn't get out of his own way on offense, although he did do a decent job defensively on NC State big man Tracy Smith. Mirkovic also played well on defense with 4 blocked shots, and he hit a couple of nice turnaround jumpers in the post, one of them a Tim Duncan style bank shot.
To me the most important thing to take from this game is the 'Cats got some valuable experience on the road in a hostile environment, and despite most of the team not handling it very well they still escaped with a win. It's great that they got the experience now, so they can learn from it and be prepared for their murderer's row stretch of schedule for the first half of Big Ten play. While I don't expect NC State to be an NCAA tournament contender, it's still huge to get a road win over an ACC program given NU's past struggles.
Northwestern won't be back in action until a week from Sunday, as the players get a break for exams. So until then, let's enjoy this winning streak. Go 'Cats!