Shurna and Mirkovic Lead 'Cats to Needed Win

It's hard to declare a game in January as a "must-win" game, but Sunday's game against Indiana had that kind of feeling. Northwestern was up to the challenge. The Wildcats posted a season-high 93 points, and beat the Indiana Hoosiers, 93-81.

Northwestern's John Shurna led all scorers with 24 points, while center Luka Mirkovic posted a career-high 20 points, along with 12 rebounds.

The Wildcats also received solid contributions from Juice Thompson, who had 16 points and freshman JerShon Cobb, who again finished in double-figures with 11 points.

The Wildcats jumped to a double-digit lead early in the first half, and didn't look back. John Shurna started the scoring with three three-pointers early in the half, and the Wildcats defense held the Hoosiers to just 36% from the field.

Things got a little tense in the second half.

Northwestern jumped out to a 24-point lead midway through the half, and the Wildcats appeared to be en-route to a blowout victory. Suddenly, Indiana regrouped offensively, putting major pressure on the Wildcats. The Hoosiers went on a 30-14 run, which cut the NU lead down to eight points.

However, the Wildcats immediately answered with a three-pointer from Drew Crawford, which would be the final dagger to the Hoosiers.

The win is the Wildcat's first conference win in four tries, a much-needed victory after opening conference play against three ranked opponents.

However, after a demoralizing defeat from the Fighting Illini on Thursday, the Wildcats responded with two great practices, which was the key to the victory over the Hoosiers.

"The Illinois game was pretty bad, (then) Michigan State and Purdue," said senior center Luka Mirkovic. "We were upset. I thought yesterday's practice was unbelievable."

Northwestern's best offensive performance of the season came at the right time. Facing a struggling defensive unit, the ‘Cats took advantage, shooting 49.1% from the field, and connecting on 10-20 three-pointers.

The key to Northwestern's success on offense was center Luka Mirkovic. The Hoosiers could not matchup against the 6'11 frame of Mirkovic, and he took advantage. The senior posted his best scoring performance of his career, but more importantly, opened up the entire offense for Northwestern.

"Just getting the ball down to Luka opens so much up," said junior forward John Shurna. "I wasn't really driving too much. Once everything gets moving, shots open up for everybody."

Shurna was among those who benefited. The forward has battled through an ankle sprain, but posted his best performance since the injury. Shurna finished with 24 points, 6-9 shooting from the field, and drilling four three-pointers.

The ankle had clearly been a burden for Shurna's torrent pace, which originally had him leading the Big Ten in points per game.

Despite a clear struggle in the first three games on conference play, Shurna refused to make any excuses.

"I don't have any excuses," Shurna told the media. "I'm trying to get better and trying to make shots."

The Wildcat win gives Northwestern a nice lead-in to an easier portion of the conference schedule, after a tough beginning. The Wildcats next travel to Iowa City to face the struggling Iowa Hawkeyes (7-7, 0-3). After that, a tough matchup in Michigan State, before returning home to face Michigan, then Southern Illinois Edwardsville.

More importantly for the Wildcat's season, a win today revives hope of the program's first NCAA tournament bid.


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