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Juice Keeps Pouring: NU Beats Minnesota behind Thompson's 35

Still standing.
Still standing.

Northwestern's bench was depleted and that ominous feeling every NU fan gets when Big Ten tournament play starts was seeping in. Yeah, this is a game they could, perhaps should win, but... well, we have a six-man rotation against a Big Ten team and as the game kicked off, nary a shot was falling, despite pretty effective, active defense.

Juice Thompson doesn't have that feeling. He doesn't know why we ever have it. All he knew is that Thursday's game sure as HELL wasn't going to be his last wearing purple, and that he was perfectly capable of setting the Big Ten tournament record for points in a game with 35. I decided about halfway through the game that despite my moral opposition to the concept of the CBI, NU should have been compelled to accept a bid to that third-rate - literally - tourney, because we need to let Juice play here as long as he can play for us.

Luckily for us, we won, which went most of the way towards booking the Cats a spot in the NIT.

Quick turnaround as there will be a game thread/preview for OSU up very soon, but, never you mind. Let's cleanse ourselves of this first.

  • Juice came to play when nobody else would in the first half and sparked a run that gave NU the lead permanently in the second. Not only was his shot falling - 5-for-12 from three - he was breaking down the defense and getting to the rack and finishing with contact in ways that don't seem possible for somebody questionably listed at 5-foot-10 to do.
  • I asked on twitter the other day which athlete should be named "The F*cksaw". I think it's pretty clear after that.
  • NU started off very trigger-happy, and I don't think that in and of itself is a problem. NU had open shots, they missed them. However, they weren't really going through their offense: as soon as an open look arrived, the ball went up. In the second half, those situations started seeing guys look for the extra pass or drive - and the offense began clicking.
  • Looking like a mini-Juice (or should I say "a slightly larger, but considerably less important Juice") was Alex Marcotullio, the same Alex Marcotullio who played arguably the best game of his career against Minnesota last time out. He did his usual thing from downtown - the only non-Juice player to hit two shots from downtown on a night the team took 31 - but what impressed me was his other attributes: he played great defense on Blake Hoffarber, drove the ball to the rrack on several occasions, and finished with another transition and-one like he had last game. Earlier I had said he'd taken a step back this year. Now, he looks like he's taken the shooting Marcotullio of last year and added a guy who can passably put the ball on the floor.
  • Sometimes, Bill Carmody has a knack for putting out a perfect gameplan. Well, he had Minnesota nailed to a T: guard the lane at all costs against their big man trio of Trevor Mbakwe, Colton Iverson, and Ralph Sampson. Let every shot from more than 10 feet go uncontested. Sure, NU's big men got into foul trouble and Ralph Sampson gave NU a scare by hitting a spate of 17-footers, but overall, it was exactly how to play the Gophers: nobody besides Blake Hoffarber can hit, and without Al Nolen, nobody is capable of driving. Mbakwe got his, putting up 19, but you can live with that.
  • We fretted - understandably - about no Mike Capocci or JerShon Cobb, not because those two have been such flashes of brilliance, but because it meant the possible season-wrecking presence of Nick Fruendt or Ivan Peljusic on the court. But Fruendt came in and played, well, ably while spotting NU's guards minutes and relieving them of foul trouble. He looked Fruendt-esque at first, forcefully hurling the ball at the front rim on two clangers, but found his spots in the offense, using a Drew Crawford-freshman-year-fake-right-drive-left out of the triple threat that sent a defender the wrong way for an easy layup and later draining a three. He didn't set the world afire. But he didn't suck. That's what we were scared of.
  • Luka Mirkovic has removed his mask. The days of Hannibal Luka, and sadly, mask-banging, appear to be over.He didn't get any points, but his low-post passing included two beauties to a cutting Drew Crawford.
  • Ivan Peljusic came in with fouls galore on big men - Davide Curletti and Luka combined for nine fouls between them - in the first half and put up an impressive 4 trillion. You have to like it when you win on 0-5 shooting, five rebounds, and nine fouls from the three guys you play for 40 minutes at the center spot.
  • John Shurna was just practicing being absent so he'll be prepared to give NU the same performance he did in NU's first game against the Buckeyes. He went 1-for-5 - his only make an uncontested dunk - and missed four threes and a free throw.
  • You really got the sense Minnesota gave up when things stopped going their way - they went from leading by two to down 16 in the blink of an eye when Michael Thompson started hitting threes, floaters, and behaving giddily.