In Northwestern's first two Big Ten games, you could look at the team's consistent effort with a hobbled John Shurna and conclude the Wildcats could have beaten nationally ranked Purdue and Michigan State if the Big Ten's leading scorer had been healthy.
But in the wake of Thursday's 88-63 loss at No. 20 Illinois -- in which the Wildcats were all but out of the game by the second media timeout -- it's clear there are more issues that need to be solved before Sunday's home game with Indiana.
"I don't know if it was effort or energy," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody told the Daily Herald. "It just didn't seem like we had the energy that was necessary to win, especially on the road in a tough place against a tough team. It's three days (until Indiana), and we have to change. We have to change our mentality. Some different guys have to step up to fill in, to help out until Shurna can get back to where he's playing better ... or closer to 100 percent."
With the Wildcats trailing Illinois by 23 at halftime, Carmody pulled Shurna with 17:29 to go to avoid further pounding on his sprained left ankle. Shurna scored seven points during his 21 minutes, which was enough time to be part of the team's worst 3-point shooting of the year.
The Wildcats entered the night hitting 41 percent of their 3s, but they made just nine of 38 (23.7 percent) against Illinois. Drew Crawford missed all six of his 3-pointers, while freshman JerShon Cobb hit just one of eight.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE : Northwestern coach Bill Carmody had big plans for freshman JerShon Cobb from the moment he signed him. Unfortunately, Cobb has spent most of his first season injured. A hip flexor ailment slowed him during preseason practice and kept him out of the opener. When he was intentionally fouled on a breakaway against St. John's on Dec. 21, he injured an already tender back.
Cobb's back continues to get better, according to Carmody, and the freshman proved it during Thursday's 88-63 loss to Illinois with a career-high 18 points. Cobb needed 19 shots to get those points, but he was active and hitting his drives as well as his customary pull-up jumpers. He also contributed four rebounds, three assists and two steals in his 32 minutes.
--Northwestern surrendered 12 points on Illinois' first four possessions and never came close to catching up in an 88-63 Big Ten road loss Thursday night. Not only did the Wildcats allow the 20th-ranked Illini to shoot a school-record 70.5 percent from the field, but Northwestern got pounded 40-17 on the boards by the taller and more active hosts. The Wildcats trailed by double figures for the final 33:28 to lose to Illinois for the 20th time in the last 22 meetings.
--Each of the last three years, Northwestern has hosted a nationally ranked Michigan State squad in its Big Ten opener. While the Spartans ruined Northwestern's home opener for the third straight early January night, at least the Wildcats fought back to make this one closer.
Northwestern shot a season-low 32 percent in its 65-62 loss at sold-out Welsh-Ryan Arena as Michigan State hounded the Wildcats with a physical man-to-man. Nonetheless, the Wildcats managed to rally after trailing 63-50 with 3:11 to go. Senior point guard Juice Thompson, who had been limited to 3 points to that juncture, carried the Wildcats on a 12-0 run as he scored 9 points and fed Davide Curletti for an open 3-pointer. NU got within 63-62 with 28.2 seconds left, but Draymond Green's putback of Kalin Lucas' missed free throw with 12 seconds stemmed the tide. The Wildcats again struggled with the Spartans on the boards as Michigan State won the battle 45-33.
--Junior center Luka Mirkovic (16 points) and freshman guard JerShon Cobb (12 points) tied their career highs in the Dec. 31 loss at Purdue. Both of Mirkovic's 16-point performances have come against Boilermakers all-American center JaJuan Johnson.
BY THE NUMBERS: 72 -- Northwestern has been excluded from all 72 NCAA Tournaments. The Wildcats are the only BCS conference school that has never played in the NCAA Tournament.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was amazing. It was very loud. A great atmosphere. That's why I came (to Northwestern). -- Freshman guard JerShon Cobb explaining to the Daily Herald why he enjoyed the Wildcats' visit to Purdue's sold-out Mackey Arena.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--vs. Indiana, Jan. 9
KEY MATCHUPS: When the Wildcats were in hot pursuit of their first NCAA berth last season, they suffered a crippling 88-80 loss at Indiana to close the regular season. NU needs to find sophomore sharpshooter Jordan Hulls on the perimeter. In that 88-80 loss, Hulls drilled 8 of 12 3-pointers. When the teams met five days later at the Big Ten tournament, Hulls went 1 for 3 on 3-pointers as the Wildcats won handily.
FUTURES MARKET: Senior PG Juice Thompson has been the Wildcats' indispensable player ever since he showed up on campus in the fall of 2007. While sophomores Alex Marcotullio and JerShon Cobb can handle the ball when necessary, the Wildcats are hoping that incoming freshmen David Sobolewski and Tre Demps can fill Thompson's role next year. Demps, the son of New Orleans Hornets' GM Dell Demps, has enjoyed a solid start to his senior year while Sobolewski was just named the MVP of the prestigious Proviso West (Ill.) High School Holiday tournament as he led his undefeated Benet Academy team to the title.
--Senior PG Michael "Juice" Thompson continues to be one of the leading iron men in the nation. Though the Wildcats suffered a 25-point blowout loss at Illinois on Thursday -- a game in which they trailed by 32 with 15 minutes to go -- Thompson played 38 minutes. He made just five of 17 shots (including five of 13 from 3-point range) and his teammates were cold enough that he managed a season-low one assist. He's averaging 39 minutes per game in Big Ten action through Jan. 6, which is right in line with last year's 38.4 mpg in league play.
--Junior F John Shurna hasn't been anywhere near the same player since he suffered a high left ankle sprain on Dec. 23 against Mount St. Mary's. With his season-low seven points in a season-low 21 minutes against Illinois. Shurna was averaging 9.7 points in the last three games through Jan. 6. He was shooting 7-for-26 from the field (27 percent) and 3-for-11 (27 percent) from 3-point range.
--At halftime of Northwestern's Big Ten opener on Dec. 31 at Purdue, coach Bill Carmody jumped sophomore swingman Drew Crawford verbally and told him to stop being such a cutie-pie. Since that time, Crawford has stuck his nose in there for a team-high 15 rebounds in the last game and a half through the Jan. 3 loss to Michigan State. He also blocked 4 shots during that time frame, including 3 against Michigan State. Just as important, Crawford drilled 3 of 5 3-pointers to turn around a cold streak. He entered the game hitting 30 percent on 3s for the year, including 6 of 27 in the team's previous six games.
--Freshman G JerShon Cobb sat out the Dec. 23 game against Mount St. Mary's after suffering a back injury when he was intentionally fouled on a breakaway by St. John's on Dec. 21. Cobb returned to the lineup on Dec. 31 against Purdue and, though his back remains sore, he contributed a career-high-tying 12 points. The lanky 6-foot-5 Atlanta product has a nice pullup jumper in his arsenal.
--Senior G/F Jeff Ryan sat out the 2009-10 season after tearing the ACL in his left knee during the season opener. Ryan said he was 100 percent when NU began practicing in October, but his knee hasn't responded as well to the daily wear-and-tear as the coaches hoped. He sat out the Purdue game for his first miss of the year and averaged just 6 minutes in the four games prior to that. That's not a good sign because Ryan appeared to be the team's eighth man when the season began.
--Senior F Ivan Peljusic underwent an appendectomy in mid-December and wasn't cleared to return to the team until the Dec. 31 game at Purdue. Peljusic averaged 1.4 points in 5.2 minutes per game through Jan. 2.
Scouting the Foe - Northwestern
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