by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)
Sometimes there are games where the final score isn't indicative of what played out on the court, and that's precisely what happened in Northwestern's 69-59 loss to Ohio State Thursday night. If it weren't for a Sam Thompson 360 dunk in garbage time, the score would have come a little closer to reflecting just how close this game was. And that it was so close is quite the accomplishment in itself. NU was without Jared Swopshire and Alex Olah (along with earlier losses JerShon Cobb, Drew Crawford and Sanjay Lumpkin), meaning there were just nine players on the Wildcats' bench Thursday night and only seven on scholarship.
Still, NU fought hard to go into halftime tied, and the Wildcats even had a lead with seven minutes left in the game. However, late foul trouble ultimately caused NU to fall to the Buckeyes, extending a losing streak in Columbus that dates back to 1977. Our thoughts on the game and more notes are below.
An Outstanding Gameplan
Those of you who are questioning whether Bill Carmody is coming back next year should probably stop that right about now. Those who want him fired should just watch that game again. Northwestern came into this game about as undermanned as it has been under Carmody in the past few years and the Wildcats hung toe-to-toe with a much deeper, much more talented team. Granted, part of the reason the gameplan worked is because NU was hitting its shots, but the Wildcats showed just how effective the Princeton offense can be when it's working to perfection — they had assists on 17 of their 23 field goals.
Carmody's offense is Carmody's offense — that didn't change. The real genius of Thursday's gameplan was to go to the 2-3 zone. NU rarely plays a 2-3 — it typically goes man or 1-3-1 — but with an undersized lineup, the Wildcats used the zone to cut out passing lanes to the paint and help with a severe height disadvantage. OSU still finished with 20 more rebounds than NU, but the Wildcats' defense was more effective overall because of the 2-3.
Part of the reason the 2-3 worked is because the Buckeyes don't shoot the ball all that well. It's tough to say whether Carmody will bring out the zone against Illinois because the height disadvantage won't be as bad against the Illini, and John Groce's team has a number of solid shooters. But that's what makes Carmody such a good coach — he's willing to adapt to different defensive schemes to fit his personnel, even if that personnel contains seven scholarship players and just nine players overall.
Abrahamson and Turner
For Northwestern to have a chance in this game, it needed Mike Turner and Kale Abrahamson to have their best games of the season to date, and that's exactly what happened. There was still a lot of room for improvement, but both players showed a lot more than we've seen from them yet this year.
Turner, in particular, has received a lot of criticism this year, and deservedly so. He fouls a lot and has struggled on both ends of the floor. However, he was much better against Ohio State, and even those the stat line wasn't great — 4 points, 4 rebounds, 8 assists and 5 fouls in 25 minutes — he improved mightily from last Saturday's game against Iowa. The eight assists are what jump out the most. Despite not scoring very much, he created shots for his teammates.
Abrahamson got the starting nod when Crawford went down earlier this year, but he was benched in favor of Tre Demps. He has struggled to even get significant minutes since, but was forced to start in place of Swopshire on Thursday. He answered the bell, finishing with 13 points, including three big threes early in the second half to keep NU in it. Lost in the shuffle was his impressive defense, and even though he fouled out, he was more disruptive down low than he's been all season. For NU to beat Illinois on Sunday, it needs another big performance from Abrahamson.
Yes, there is still a lot to play for this year — NU showed on Thursday that it sure hasn't quit on the season. However, with Demps, Abrahamson and Turner all on the floor, NU fans were watching the future of their program against Ohio State. Considering the outcome, that's not bad at all.
It's possible that none of those guys will start next year. Demps could start, but he may also lose that job to Cobb. Abrahamson could start, but he could lose that job as well, either to Lumpkin or a combination of Demps and Cobb. Turner almost certainly will become the backup again once Olah returns.
As the Wildcats learned the hard way this year, it's impossible to predict depth, because injuries happen. But with a clean slate next year, NU has Dave Sobolewski, Crawford and Olah starting, with some combination of Demps, Cobb, Abrahamson and Lumpkin backing them up. Turner will be a backup, as will Nikola Cerina and promising newcomer Jaren Sina. Demps, Abrahamson and Turner could have a lot of people in front of them next year, yet they were the ones who hung with Ohio State in Columbus. There's no guaranteeing an NCAA Tournament appearance, nor is there guaranteeing that everyone stays healthy. However, the future sure looks bright, considering how it played against OSU.
- Carmody noted that he expected to play walk-on James Montgomery III a lot on Thursday, but the guards played well so he didn't need to. Montgomery III ended with less than a minute of playing time.
- True freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores accounted for all but 16 of NU's points.
- Demps and Abrahamson combined to go 7-for-11 from beyond the arc.
And some tweets
Alex Olah was watching from home, but boy was he excited.