Crawford slumps at bad moment

The pressure's on Drew Crawford to deliver better performances in bigger games.

On Wednesday, Northwestern did it again. The Wildcats eased their opponent into a slow-tempo game, one designed to shrink the talent gap. By bleeding shot clocks and playing tight defense, they hung with No. 4 Michigan State — at least for longer than most expected.

Eventually, NU would need some sort of offensive spark. When they did, the ownership fell on Drew Crawford, one of the program's all-time leading scorers. For a team barely averaging 50 points per game in conference play, it wouldn't have been ridiculous to ask for.

But at another inopportune moment, Crawford disappeared. He went 1-for-8 and committed four turnovers in the 54-40 loss. In his past four games, Crawford has as many turnovers as made field goals.

"Defenses have done a better job of keying in on me a little bit," Crawford said. "It's something I really need to improve to help my team out."

It's not optional. NU lacks much offensive talent–which Chris Collins readily admits–and that makes Crawford and Jershon Cobb responsible for the scoring burden every game.

Collins placed their ideal combined figure around 30 or 40 points, and even with Tre Demps playing the most inspired basketball of his career, they can't expect to win without Crawford. They got away with it against Illinois, thanks to an all-time bad shooting effort from the Illini, but know that the next improvement needs to come from scorers.

"It's an adjustment," Crawford said of the new-look offense. "But right now, it's something we really need to work through. We need to become a better offensive team, because we've been working our butts off on defense, and I think that's what we've been hanging our hat on."

Crawford still sits at 15.6 points per game while shooting a respectable 42 percent from the floor and 36 percent from behind the arc. His rebounding numbers jumped to 7.0 per contest — which shows his commitment to helping the team.

The reality for this team is that Crawford should lead every upset effort. The Jan. 5 game exposed that, with NU heading into the locker room in striking distance of Michigan after his strong first half. Even in that one, Crawford was fatigued, with Collins saying after the game that he needed to be the leading scorer, leading rebounder, and guard the opponent's best player. It's tough to ask, but that's the reality.

So after the Michigan State game, someone needed to explain the "40" on the scoreboard. The team can't afford Crawford slumping, not even when they flashed signs of life.

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