NU won on senior night, in one of the more fun games to attend I can remember. But I still can't help dealing with the sadness of no more Juice - it became clear as the night went on, from him crying during senior day festivities to him putting on a second half show and pumping the crowd up - how much this program means to him, and furthermore, how lost we may be without him.
Cover your left eye for Juice. But until then, hit the jump.
I wish we could say that on senior night, Juice Thompson spurred the come-from-behind victory, and, to be fair, he played fine: 18 points, 15 of them in the second half. But the story were the two guys who kept NU in the game before shots started falling: I'll touch on them both individually.
In the first half, Davide Curletti provided NU's offense, and would've gone for more had he not racked up two quick fouls. Not a knock on Curletti - who has been great, great these past two games - but I have no clue where it's come from. My comment on his game a few weeks ago was that I saw fundamental flaws in his game: he shot layups like chest passes and took moving shots without ever looking at the basket. NO CLUE WHAT HAPPENED. He took contact and finished on, well, every occasion he had against a good defending Minnesota front line. He also had a team-high four assists, although I don't remember his passing being super-adept.
And Alex Marcotullio made it clear: he's not just a three-point specialist. Great defense, with a block, hustling for loose balls, he absolutely skied for a one-handed rebound, kept pressure on Minnesota in transition and also hit several threes. I thought there was no chance in hell he was going to finish his and-one on the fast break, sure enough, he did, and then hit a three. Curletti kept NU in the game, Marcotullio swung the tide in NU's favor.
Not a great game for Juice, but he got the point across - all four of his field goals were threes, three of them in the second half. Chills.
Moment that did give me chills, because I saw it the whole way: Juice picks it up, starts driving, at which point I become completely aware his plan is to stepback and drain a three, so I start saying "senior day. senior day." Of course, he steps back, his defender doesn't stick with him at all, he releases "senior daaaAYYYYY" swish "SENIOR DAY."
Maybe I was just feeding off the senior day emotion, but it really felt like NU cared more about chasing down loose balls than I've ever seen. Alex Marcotullio in particular had a swipe on an unsuspecting pass in transition and chased down a ball over a fallen Minnesota player. Let me put it this way: Juice Thompson, for perhaps the first time in his career, led the team in rebounds, with seven. (Cute senior day story.) It's not because he was skying over Trevor Mbakwe: it's because with both teams shooting poorly, long rebounds were coming and getting bobbled down to Juice's level, and he fought for them.
Yeah, it's cliche that you live by the three and die by the three. But NU struggled early, starting out something like 2-20, and that just happens sometimes. But it also means you know you're never out of the game: all of a sudden, NU hit eight of their last ten, and, well, ballgame. When your shooters are good enough, you just roll with the punches when the shots aren't falling, because, even if they don't end up falling, the possibility they will is better than trying to change who you are as a team.
Seth from Posting and Toasting brought up a spectacular point about the Knicks-Magic game the other night: the reason Dwight Howard got so many touches wasn't all Dwight Howard: Stan Van Gundy makes sure there's a ton of action and ball-movement away from the ball. As the ball moves around the perimeter, EVENTUALLY the undersized guy guarding Howard comes out of position trying to keep up with the swinging and it leads to an open layup for a physical beast. Minnesota has three legit big men who could have dominated Northwestern. The lack of creativity in their offense, however, is appalling. They ran a four-out, one-in set that truly could not have been more passive. That, and some passable help defense on Mbakwe, doomed the Gophers.
About Mbakwe: I asked him to add me on facebook and send me a message. I don't think he's going to.
Second row, behind the basket: I'm disappointed I'm not in any of the AP photos I can use with this post.
I will never get tired of Maverick Ahanmisi. Every time he missed (this happens a lot when you're a bad shooter) got blocked (once) turned the ball over (three times) or fouled (five times), I had my full arsenal of Top Gun jokes to go to. I cannot count the amount of times I yelled "NEGATIVE, MAVERICK, THAT PATTERN IS FULL". Eventually I just had to tell him that he'd lost that loving feeling. I felt bad when he got hurt driving to the basket, but I think he just got the wind knocked out of him - one might say the fall took his breath away. One of the girls I was with wanted to yell "Maverick, you big stud, take me to bed or lose me forever!" but got gun-shy when the moment arose... so I did it when he was inbounding the ball underneath the basket. Pause.
In case you're wondering, he didn't take me to bed, thus, he has lost me forever.
I have big plans for my Mike Capocci and Ivan Peljusic heads-on-sticks. Oh, wait, there's literally no practical usage for these and they creep me out. They're awesome, though.
About Ivan Peljusic: he played for about a minute in the first half. I feel like pointing out that on his first possession, he lost his man on defense, found him, failed to box him out, allowing an offensive rebound, and then mistimed his jump such that it led to an uncontested layup. It was fun to watch.
That said, about Ivan Peljusic: the story of the night is, who was the girl Ivan Peljusic brought to his senior day celebration? If you were at the game, you know what I was talking about.
John Shurna: quiet 16. By which I mean he dunked it twice and had several big threes.
Never, ever, ever, ever though I'd hear a "WE WANT JEFF" chant for Jeff Ryan. Way to not come in.
I couldn't stop thinking, and I don't know why, about how much someday, Kevin Coble is going to be really, really sad about never having had a senior day.
Game-changing moment goes to not Alex Marcotullio, but this kid I've vaguely met two or three times for walking into the Minnesota huddle during a media timeout right as the tide was turning NU's way and just chilling out there for four or five seconds. Game-changer.
Every time an NU player hit a free throw, this female Minnesota fan had a loud, protracted orgasm. Did someone bring the f*cksaw to the game?
Remember when Juice drew an offensive foul, and the crowd erupted into "MI-CHAEL THOMPS-ON" chants? Yeah, you're welcome. My friend's idea, but, we started it, and I must say it's pretty cool to see people on two sides of the same stadium agree that that idea you had to chant something was pretty cool. I just wanted to go with "JUUUUUUUUICE" but it's not very chantable. Just yellable.
About which, last night I realized how ridiculous it was that I've never called him Joose Thompson when he plays poorly, or exceptionally hyper.
How pissed is Nick Fruendt that his point per game average suffers so that Ivan Peljusic could get a round of applause? Correct answer: super-pissed.
THAT GUY WON A LEXUS. By far the most awkward release of anybody all year on the half-court shot, but it was too perfect that the guy would finally hit one in the last home game of the year. Swish, too.