So far, so good against the bottom of the conference for Northwestern, as the 'Cats opened up a double digit early on Indiana and cruised to their second straight Big Ten win.
Once again it was a balanced attack for Northwestern, as all 5 starters finished in double figures. John Shurna led the way with 16 points on 5 for 8 3-point shooting, and added 6 assists, 5 rebounds and 3 blocks. Jeremy Nash had 10 rebounds for his second straight double-digit rebounding game to go along with 13 points, Luka Mirkovic had 14 points, Michael Thompson finished with 12 points and 6 assists, and Drew Crawford chipped in with 10 points, highlighted by a dunk on the games' first possession. The NU bench even got involved, as Mike Capocci had 6 points and Alex Marcotullio showed signs of breaking out of his shooting slump with a first half three.
The Northwestern offense really clicked in the first half, as they went into the locker room shooting 59% from the field and leading by 14. In the second half Indiana switched to a zone, and too often the 'Cats settled for three point shots instead of trying to get the the ball inside, which helped Indiana close a 20 point lead down to 11, but eventually they adjusted and got the ball inside more to pull away late. For the game, NU shot 52% from the field and 40% from three.
The only reason this game wasn't over by halftime was the play of Verdell Jones. He finished with a game high 28 points, and got Northwestern's entire back court in foul trouble almost by himself. He hit 12 of his 13 free throws and was nearly unstoppable off the dribble. Fortunately for Northwestern, his teammates were a miserable 0 for 13 from 3-point range, in part due to awful shot selection by noted chucker Devan Dumes and freshman Jordan Hulls. The 'Cats played man to man nearly the entire game, and was effective for the most part as the Hoosiers shot only 35% from the field. They also did an excellent job of help defense on the interior, finishing the game with 9 blocked shots. The one big downside to all the man to man is that it led to a lot more fouls than the zone alternative, and had this been a closer game, the foul trouble for Thompson, Nash and Crawford could have been big trouble. A lot of the foul trouble was due to no one being able to guard Jones, but there are a lot of players in the Big Ten capable of breaking down people off the dribble the way Jones does, so it will be a tough decision for Carmody going forward.
Even though it was a bit sloppy at times in the second half, overall this was an encouraging performance for Northwestern, as they took care of business at home against a lesser opponent and were never really threatened. We'll see if they can keep it up Wednesday night at Iowa, which certainly should be a win on paper but in reality will likely prove difficult as Iowa has been playing better of late. More coverage of that game coming soon, for now let's enjoy another win and settle in for the Super Bowl.