NU Back Door Cuts its Way to Victory

Saturday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena, the Northwestern Men's Basketball team relied on its motion offense and big nights from a few veterans to defeat the EA Sports All-Stars in its exhibition opener by a score of 64 - 59.

F Vedran Vukusic [VV]With senior center Aaron Jennings donning shin splints and street clothes at the end of the bench, Northwestern started freshman point guard TJ Parker along with veterans Winston Blake, Jitim Young, Vedran Vukusic, and Jason Burke.  Forward Vedran Vukusic [NU Photo left] started at center in place of Jennings.

From the opening tip, the EA Sports All-Stars had the hot hand from the exterior.  Led by former Michigan sharp-shooting guard Leon Jones, EA Sports established an early 11 - 2 lead in the first six minutes as the Wildcats missed six of their first eight shots, all from the perimeter.

With their outside shooting failing them, the Wildcats had to look inside.  At the 13:15 mark of the first half, junior guard Jitim Young was the first Wildcat to drive to the basket as he cut the lead to 11 - 4 on an assertive layup.   After an EA Sports three-point field goal, Young again scored driving to the basket the next time down the floor to make it 14 - 6.  A Jason Burke drive the following trip down the floor resulted in the Wildcat's first trip to the free-throw line with 10:35 to go in the half.

Northwestern's aggressive inside plays finally opened up the perimeter shooting as Parker hit a sweet 15-foot pull-up jumper, Vukusic knocked down a basline three off an inbounds play, and Blake canned another three after an EA Sports miss to cut the deficit to 20 - 17 with 8:00 to go in the first half.

After Jason Burke tied the game at 27 by making one of two from the line, Jitim Young stole the ball and drove the length of the court for another layup and a foul to give Northwestern its first lead of the game. With 0:30 remaining the first half, substitute freshman forward Jimmy Maley hit Young on a perfectly executed back door cut to give Northwestern a 32 - 27 lead going into half time.

For the early part of the second half, Northwestern Head Coach Bill Carmody extended his team's lead by making good use of his motion offense and rotation of the starting five plus Maley and sophomore forward Davor Duvancic. A back door pass from freshman Jimmy Maley to fellow freshman TJ Parker with 8:18 to go in the game gave Northwestern its largest lead of the game at 54 - 47.

The road-tested EA Sports All-Stars didn't fold, however. They continued pressing and former University of Illinois stand-out Sergio McClain even knocked over three chairs and his head coach aggressively going after a ball headed into the visitors' bench.  After two consecutive Wildcats turnovers, EA Sports had suddenly cut the Northwestern lead to 58 - 55 with 2:57 to go in the game.

The Wildcat offense continued to stall, and after another Northwestern turnover Sergio McClain beat TJ Parker off the dribble along the baseline to draw a trip to the line with just under a minute to play.  McClain sank one of two free-throws to draw within two, 58 - 56.

Jason Burke The pesky All-Stars would get no closer, though.  Jitim Young hit Vedran Vukusic under the basket for a lay-in to stretch the lead to 60 - 56.  Vukusic then blocked a shot attempt at the other end and Young was immediately fouled and sent to the line.  Winston Blake and Jason Burke [NU Photo left] also found themselves at the line in the closing seconds of the game as EA Sports made a desperate attempt to get back into the game.

The Wildcats were led in scoring by Winston Blake and Jitim Young both with 19 points. Vedran Vukusic had 11.  While making 3 of 16 three-point field goal attempts, the 'Cats had success going inside and executing back door opportunities for open looks close to the basket.  The Wildcats made 17 of 23 attempts from the free-throw line, a vast improvement in an area that plagued the team in close games last season.  The Northwestern match-up zone defense also created EA Sports turnovers as Jason Burke led the team with three blocked shots.

Coach Carmody held three players, Aaron Jennings,Ivan Tolic, and Patrick Towne out of the game due to injuries and--despite the exhibition nature of the contest--used only three substitutes in Maley, Duvancic, and freshman combo guard Mohamed Hachad.  Hachad saw only 2:23 of action.

In his first game as a Wildcat, TJ Parker was impressive in his poise,  passing, and overall play at point guard.  Also of note was traditional outside threat Winston Blake's strong inside play as he led the team in rebounding and created 8 points inside three-point range as well as an additional 8 from the free-throw line.

The Wildcats play their second and final exhibition game this Wednesday, November 13 at Welsh-Ryan Arena at 7 p.m. before kicking off the season against Maryland-Eastern Shore on November 22.

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