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2011 NIT: Northwestern vs. Washington State recap

DeAngelo Casto multi-tasking in the post.
DeAngelo Casto multi-tasking in the post.

Yet another Northwestern basketball season ends on the road in the NIT, but this year, at least the Cats went out in style. After going out with a whimper in the NIT's first round in 2009 and 2010, NU rallied from a big deficit to force overtime, but just couldn't make the shots they needed to in overtime, and lost 69-66.

Washington State came out strong to start the game, pounding the ball inside to big men DeAngelo Casto and Brock Motum, and the Cougars' attacking zone defense bothered NU and kept the Cats' offense off-balance. Michael Thompson in particular had trouble with the WSU traps, committing a couple of turnovers and having to burn two timeouts to avoid even more damage.

With NU down 28-17 late in the first half, Bill Carmody became enraged after a foul was called on Davide Curletti, got a technical foul, then had to be restrained by his assistants; Carmody looked like he wanted to throw a few punches. WSU hit 3 of the 4 free throws to extend the lead to a game-high 14, but the technical seemed to inspire Northwestern, as they closed the half on 14-7 run, then opened the second half on a 7-0 run to tie the score.

The game was back and forth the rest of the way, and eventually Northwestern tied it after a John Shurna lay-up was goaltended by Casto with 4 seconds left. WSU had a golden opportunity to win at the end of regulation, as Drew Crawford committed a silly foul on Abe Lodwick with 0.2 seconds left, but Lodwick missed both free throws and the game went into overtime.

Neither team could get much going in overtime,as the teams combined for only 7 points in the extra session.  NU missed several good looks at open three pointers, and then Alex Marcotullio missed two contested threes in the final seconds, as WSU held on for the win.

- Washington State played a zone most of the game, and with the athletic Casto patrolling the paint, NU had a tough time scoring inside. Instead, they got plenty of good looks at threes, but only hit 10 of 38 for the game, 5 for 17 in the first half, 5 of 13 in the second half, and then 0 for 8 in overtime.

- Juice led NU with 20 points, but hit just 3 of 12 three pointers and an uncharacteristic 3 turnovers against just 3 assists. John Shurna also struggled with his shot, hitting just 2 for 10 on threes, but he contributed in plenty of other ways, with 9 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks. He made an incredible hustle play at the end of overtime, chasing down Marcotullio's first missed three and passing it back out to give Marcotullio another chance, too bad the shot didn't go down. Marcotullio finished with 16 points.

- Drew Crawford continues to struggle with his outside shot, as he hit just 2 of 8 threes, but he had some nice finishes inside including one incredibly athletic tip in. Luka Mirkovic hit all three of his field goals, and had 6 rebounds and 3 assists. It was nice to see him maintain his composure in a hostile environment.

- For the second straight game, Bill Carmody used his bench sparingly. Davide Curletti played 12 minutes in place of Luka, and checked out for good early in the second half after he was late on a rotation and got dunked on by Klay Thompson. JerShon Cobb played just 4 minutes, missing all 3 of his field goals and looking very rusty coming off his hip injury, and Mike Capocci played just one minute early in the first half. The injury to Cobb has really limited NU's bench depth, as he's been a solid contributor all season, but he's clearly not fully recovered from his injury so Carmody didn't have much choice but to go with his best 5 guys down the stretch.

Carmody did well making adjustments to the Cougars' trapping zones, and his defense did a nice job slowing doen WSU star Klay Thompson, who hit just 6 of 18 from the field. I will criticize him for not seeming to be aware of the concept of going 2 for 1 at the end of halves; at the end of regulation and overtime NU had a chance to go 2 for 1 with an early shot, yet both times worked the clock down too far, then had to foul after WSU got the ball back. Based on the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, he's far from the only D1 coach who doesn't go 2 for 1, but that's no excuse and definitely something he should make his players more aware of.

So yet another Northwestern basketball season ends in disappointment, but at least we got to enjoy a postseason tournament run, even if it was just the NIT. This team didn't quit on the season once it was clear the NCAAs were out of reach; in fact in their final six games they were unbeaten in regulation time; too bad you don't get partial credit for overtime losses like the NHL. Juice's excellent career has come to an end, but the rest of the rotation will be back, so we'll see if NU can carry some of this momentum over into next year.