Northwestern got their first Big Ten win of the season, rallying from a 17 point first half deficit to take a 10 point lead with 7 minutes left, blowing that lead and going down 1 with 1:30 to go, then finishing the game on a 7-0 run for the final margin.
Drew Crawford had by far the best game of his career, scoring 25 points and getting 8 rebounds. I know he had 35 points in a game earlier this year, but that was against North Carolina A&T. This was on the road in Big Ten play, and he played like a full grown man. The 'Cats were down 31-14 with 5 minutes left in the first half, and Crawford got NU back in the game by himself, scoring 11 straight points and helping make the halftime deficit a manageable 9 points.
In the second half, NU stepped up their 3-point shooting and defense and stormed back in front. Bill Carmody proved me wrong by sticking with the 1-3-1 zone in the second half, and it paid huge dividends as the 'Cats forced 17 turnovers in the game, the vast majority coming in the 2nd half. I think the key for the zone was having Jeremy Nash at the top of the 1-3-1. For much of the first half, Alex Marcotullio was at the top and the zone wasn't effective. Marcotullio wasn't effective on either end, missing all 4 of his threes and putting up a zero in every stat except fouls in 12 minutes. Carmody wisely kept him on the bench in the 2nd half, and Nash got all the minutes and came through defensively, as he had 2 steals and caused several more turnovers with long arms and athleticism.
After a quiet first half, Michael Thompson was huge in the 2nd half. He played all 40 minutes and hit 4 big threes, including an NBA range bomb to quiet the crowd, but he did his best work at the end of the game, as Michigan had made a run and taken the lead with just over a minute left. Thompson didn't panic, ran the offense, and found Crawford underneath, who took it up strong and was fouled. The freshman calmly swished both free throws, and then Carmody made a great decision and called for a full court press. Michigan wasn't ready for it and Thompson got a steal, and once again NU found Crawford cutting backdoor, who was again fouled and buried both free throws to make it a 3-point game. I don't think any of those 4 free throws even grazed the rim, the kid had ice water in his veins. Michigan never scored again, and Nash and Thompson hit free throws for the final margin
Luka Mirkovic was definitely the unsung hero of the game, as he had 13 points and 8 rebounds and did a very good job of covering DeShawn Sims in the second half. Sims had 13 in the first half and looked like he'd go for 30, but Mirkovic slowed him down. I was very happy with Mirkovic did in this game on offense as well, as he didn't force up bad shots (except one airball as the shot clock was running down), had 4 offensive rebounds, and had 4 assists. He only took one 3-pointer the whole game, a wide open look that he knocked down. I don't have a problem with him taking 1 or 2 threes a game if he's wide open and has his feet set, but what causes problems is when he falls in love with the outside shot and forgets he's the 5th option on offense like he did in the previous two Big Ten games. Overall an excellent performance by Mirkovic, hopefully he can keep it up as Kyle Rowley, Davide Curletti and Ivan Peljusic all provided less than nothing off the bench; Peljusic in particular got abused by Sims on one play in the low post.
I've been ripping Carmody the last few games, but tonight he did a very good job. He kept Crawford in the entire 2nd half basically despite foul trouble, and Crawford stepped up big down the stretch. I've already mentioned the good things he did calling the defenses. I didn't think a 1-3-1 would work against Michigan; I was dead wrong. It forced a lot of turnovers, and Michigan's role players couldn't consistently hit threes to break the zone. Kudos to Carmody keeping his team composed through all the ups and downs.
This is a great win, but the road ahead is much tougher as the 'Cats enter a brutal 6 game stretch beginning with a game against Wisconsin on Wednesday night. The good news is that it's at home, and Welsh-Ryan should be rocking as the students are back from break and the fans aren't all hung over from the Outback Bowl like for the Michigan State game. A lot more on that game coming up this week, but for now let's enjoy this win.