Juice On The Loose

Northwestern started things right in their trip to Indianapolis, beating Minnesota 75-65 in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.

NU senior point guard Michael Thompson carried the load for the Wildcats, finishing with a career-high and Big Ten Tournament single-game scoring record 35 points. ‘Juice' finished shooting 11-22 shooting from the field, including five three-pointers.

But Thompson's leadership was most important on the court, not in the stat sheet.

"I say this all the time, Juice is are leader out there, "said NU forward Drew Crawford of Juice Thompson. He leads us all the time, whether it's passing the ball, scoring it, he did an unbelievable job leading us."

But the focused senior kept the record game in perspective, as his team will live to fight another day in the Big Ten Tournament.

"I'm just happy that my team came out and we got a win, and we stayed alive to play tomorrow," Thompson said.

Drew Crawford also chipped in for the Wildcats with 15 points, while Alex Marcotullio finished with 13 points. Minnesota was led by forward Trevor Mbakwe's 19 points and 11 rebounds, while Blake Hoffarber finished with 13 points.

The game changed in Northwestern's favor during the second half, when the Wildcats caught fire. In the second half, the ‘Cats shot 46.4%, with Thompson scoring 22 of the team's 43 points. NU went on a 24-9 run, which gave them a 66-52 lead with under four minutes remaining. The ‘Cats were in full control after that.

Playing without usual starter Jershon Cobb and key bench player Mike Capocci, the Wildcats received a huge boost from the bench—that coming from Nick Fruendt. The junior guard finished with seven points in 11 minutes on the floor. But Fruendt was lucky to even be kept in the game, as Bill Carmody came close to taking him out of the game.

"Nick was huge today," said Alex Marcotullio. "Coach Carmody gave him a chance. Coach told us in the locker room (after the game) if he didn't play well, he wasn't going to go back. He hit a huge three and played well defensively. He stepped in and did a great job for us."

Now, the Wildcats have fewer than 24 hours to turn their focus on a new opponent, top-ranked Ohio State. This will be Northwestern's second matchup with the Buckeyes—the first one being a heartbreaking one-point loss at Welsh-Ryan Arena. With their NCAA tournament hopes on the line, the Wildcats will have to face the best team in the nation in order to stay alive in the Big Ten tournament.

"Now we have the opportunity to face the number one team in the country," said Carmody. "It's a challenge for us, but that's why you play—to face the best guys in the country."

During their first matchup, Northwestern was able to dictate the tempo of the game, holding Ohio State's high-octane offense to just 58 points. With another game against the Buckeyes lying ahead, expect the Wildcats to bust out that same gameplan.

"I think this time around, we're going to go about our business the same way," said Alex Marcotullio of Friday's game. "We'll try to control the game and take away what we do best. We want to win the next three games, and today was a good start."

Tipoff in that game is set for noon (Eastern Time) from Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

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