Well, that was a tough one
.Northwestern led by 3 points with 30 seconds left in regulation, but couldn't hold on and eventually lost in overtime. Some blame for the loss falls on the coaching staff, some falls on the players, and the rest was because Draymond Green is 100 percent man. However you slice it though, Northwestern let a golden opportunity for a marquee win slip through their fingers, and that sucks.
A few thoughts:
- In the first half, both teams came out looking like they'd spend the previous night out at the bars until closing time. The halftime score was 23-18 NU, as Northwestern struggled vs MSU's hard-nosed man to man while the Spartans looked befuddled by the 1-3-1 zone. John Shurna in particular got abused by Delvon Roe, as Shurna kept trying to take Roe off the dribble and kept getting his one-handed leaners thrown back in his face. Shurna would finish the game 2 for 10 from the field, and it was largely because he forced up several bad shots in the lane. His confidence appeared shaken early, and he never really recovered. When you think about it, it's amazing NU was close to winning after how poorly Shurna played on offense.
- Northwestern did a very nice job on the defensive glass overall, rebounding 72% of the Spartans' misses. However, they twice failed to block out Draymond Green in the final minute of regulation, and both times he got the offensive board and got himself to the line. Green would go 6 for 6 from the line in the final minute, quite a number for a guy who entered the game shooting just 56% on free throws.
- Bill Carmody has been getting a ton of criticism for how he managed the game down the stretch, some of it deserved, a lot of it way over the top. It was certainly puzzling that a poor foul shooter like Luka Mirkovic was in the game in the final 30 seconds when it was clear MSU would foul, and even more confusing that NU inbounded the ball to him. I believe he was in because MSU was at the line and Carmody wanted him in for the rebound, but there was no reason to inbound the ball to him. Carmody should have had NU better prepared to get the ball into the hands of the best free throw shooters, so it's on him that Luka was fouled and only made 1 of 2, allowing MSU to tie.
With 10 seconds left in regulation and the game tied, Carmody chose not to call a timeout, and Thompson wildly attacked the basket and was called for a travel, sending the game to overtime. I have to say I'm fine with Carmody's decision not to use a timeout; the only play he could have really called 94 feet from the hoop with only 10 seconds would be to have Juice push the ball and either take it to the hoop or kick it out to one of the shooters, and that's essentially what happened anyways, except Juice was out of control and turned it over. All calling a timeout would have done is let Izzo set his defense; instead, Juice needs to do a better job of driving under control and making the right decision.
What's particularly frustrating is that Northwestern had, in part due to Thompson's heady play, responded to every punch MSU threw at them in regulation up until then. Midway through the half, the Spartans pulled ahead by 3 after a quick 7-0 run, the Izzone was going crazy, and NU appeared in danger of falling into a big hole. Carmody did not call timeout here, trusting his veteran team to answer back, and Juice responded by burying a cold-blooded stepback three to tie the score and quiet the crowd. Then a pattern ensued where NU would take a one possession lead, MSU would tie it, NU would take the lead again, rinse, repeat. Northwestern always seemed to maintain their composure in the second half, so it was very disappointing to see the offense so tentative in the game's most important possessions.
Which brings me to the end of overtime, when Northwestern got the ball back down by 2 and 45 seconds on the clock. Again, Carmody chose not to use a timeout, trusting his team would answer back like they had the entire second half. His trust turned out to be misplaced though, as NU tentatively passed the ball around the perimeter, never threatening to get close to the basket. Finally, Shurna threw up an air-ball from 30 feet at the shot clock buzzer, and that was that.
Carmody probably should have used a timeout about halfway though that awful possession once it was clear the play was going nowhere, but his players deserve the lions' share of the blame. There is no reason for a veteran team, led by a senior point guard who is now NU's all-time assist leader, to look that out of sync. I hate to use the word "choke" to describe college players, but that's the word to most accurately describe that possession. There was no back-cutting and hardly any movement off the ball; everyone was standing around waiting for someone else to make the play. When MSU was in the same situation in regulation, Green stepped up, demanded the ball, and made the plays his team needed. Someone needs to step up for Northwestern and fill the role of go-to guy in crunch time, because right now, they don't have a go-to guy when the chips are down.
This really sucks because a lot of good things happened in this game. Drew Crawford was excellent in the second half, as he finally did some damage around the rim. JerShon Cobb confidently knocked down some clutch shots late in the second half. Davide Curletti and Alex Marcotullio both provided solid minutes off the bench.
But in the end, it wasn't enough, and Northwestern is now 2-4 in the Big Ten with zero quality wins. Unless you're a believer in the LTP/Tim Doyle "sympathy bid" theory, NU will have to finish 10-8 at worst to have a reasonable chance at the NCAAs. That means they need to win 8 of their final 12 conference games, and that's going to be very difficult, especially with Penn State now looking like a legitimate team. The good news it that 7 of the 12 are at home, and we don't have to play Michigan State or Purdue anymore. The bad news is, we'll probably only be favored in 5 of those games, 6 at the very most. Tuesday night at home vs Michigan is one of those 5, and is now basically a must win. We'll see if NU can respond and keep the dream alive.