GETTING INSIDEMichael "Juice" Thompson and John Shurna couldn't carry Northwestern the whole season. Fortunately for the Wildcats, their other starters are kicking into high gear just as Big Ten opponents start to take away Thompson and Shurna.
With sophomore center Luka Mirkovic and freshman guard Drew Crawford leading the way, Northwestern righted one of last year's wrongs when it knocked off No. 6 Purdue on Saturday at home. The Boilermakers escaped from a 14-point second-half deficit to win at Welsh-Ryan Arena last season, but the Wildcats made the big plays late in their 72-64 win that brought much of the student body (wearing their purple "Make Shots" T-shirts) rushing to the floor at game's end.
"It's pretty cool," Crawford told the Daily Herald. "I got popped in the face after, but it was pretty cool."Crawford was pretty cool, too. Named the Big Ten Network's player of the game, the 6-foot-5 guard rapidly has developed into NU's go-to guy in the clutch. With NU holding a tenuous 1-point lead with 2:05 to go, Crawford drilled a 3-pointer. The next time down the floor, Crawford resisted the urge to jack another 3 and drove to the hoop for an off-balance layup that became a 3-point play. He finished 15 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists.
Meanwhile, the 6-foot-10 Mirkovic dominated the statistical battle with Purdue's all-Big Ten center, JaJuan Johnson. While Johnson fouled out with just 7 points and 2 rebounds in 18 minutes, Mirkovic rolled up a career-high 16 points with 10 rebounds for his third career double-double. The affable Serbian has averaged 12.0 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.0 block per game over Northwestern's last four outings.
The Wildcats need to have each of their starters rolling if they're going to build on the Purdue victory. There's no rest for the Wildcats in Big Ten play as they travel to red-hot Ohio State on Tuesday before welcoming Illinois to Welsh-Ryan Arena on Saturday. The good news? They've hit the halfway point of their incredible schedule to start Big Ten play: 10 consecutive games against 2009 NCAA Tournament qualifiers.
"Like I told the guys in the Wisconsin game (on Wednesday0, if we win tonight, we've still got to play Purdue on Saturday," said Northwestern coach Bill Carmody. "I'll say that now. We still have to play Ohio State on Tuesday. You enjoy it, get what you can from it."NOTES, QUOTES
Junior point guard Michael "Juice" Thompson injured his hip late in the Illinois game on Dec. 30. Over the ensuing four games, whether it be because of the hip or because of increased scrutiny from opposing defenses, Thompson shot just 10 of 37 from the field.Thompson had every excuse to continue his slump against Purdue on Saturday, including an illness that forced him to throw up at halftime. But Thompson stepped forward with 6-for-9 shooting from the field and 6 for 6 from the line for his first 20-point game since his 22-point effort on Dec. 1 at North Carolina State. He ranks fourth in the Big Ten in assists (4.4 apg) and 3-point goals (2.4 per game).
According to Basketball State, Northwestern ranks among the nation's most-efficient ballhandling teams. The Wildcats entered the weekend as the country's leader in assists per basket (73.0 percent) and sixth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (which dropped from 1.54 to 1.49 during Saturday's win over Purdue). Juice Thompson's 2.8-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio leads the Wildcats, while backcourt mate Jeremy Nash owns a solid 2.0-to-1 ratio.ON THE SPOT
After playing his bench just 12 minutes in Wednesday's 60-50 home loss against Wisconsin, Northwestern coach Bill Carmody made a bigger effort to get his starters a break against Purdue. Backup center Kyle Rowley (13 minutes) and backup guard Alex Marcotullio (12 points) saw their workloads double while junior forward Mike Capocci contributed 2 minutes. That enabled every NU starter to get a rest, which hasn't happened for Juice Thompson and John Shurna in several games. It'll be Carmody's job to find ways to follow a similar plan against Ohio State and Illinois this week.QUOTE TO NOTE
"After awhile you're not like a freshman anymore. He's willing to take a big shot." -- Northwestern coach Bill Carmody, discussing freshman guard Drew Crawford in the Chicago Tribune. Crawford ranks No. 3 among Big Ten freshmen in scoring (10.9 ppg), No. 2 in field-goal shooting (50 percent) and No. 3 in 3-point shooting (40.8 percent).SEASON RECAP
Northwestern's win over No. 6 Purdue on Saturday marked the Wildcats' biggest conquest (in terms of national ranking) since the 1978-79 Wildcats upset the No. 4 Michigan State team that went on to win the NCAA title. Three weeks ago, NU made its first appearance in the Associated Press Top 25 since 1969. The Wildcats' 13-4 record represents the program's best 17-game mark since the 1945-46 squad broke out to a 14-3 start.PLAYER ROTATION
Usual Starters -- F Drew Crawford, F John Shurna, C Luka Mirkovic, G Michael "Juice" Thompson, G Jeremy Nash. Key Subs -- G Alex Marcotullio, C Kyle Rowley.GAME REVIEW
Northwestern 68, Michigan 62
Wisconsin 60, Northwestern 50
Northwestern 72, Purdue 64
at Ohio State, Tuesday, Jan. 19
vs. Illinois, Saturday, Jan. 23
at Minnesota, Tuesday, Jan. 26
at Michigan State, Saturday, Jan. 30
vs. Michigan, Tuesday, Feb. 2
Northwestern split last year's games with Ohio State as both decisions came down to the Wildcats' ability to shred the Buckeyes' zones with 3-pointers. The Wildcats made 13 of 25 3-pointers in their home win but just 9 of 27 in their road loss. Perhaps Northwestern can learn from last week's Purdue-Ohio State game, when Purdue's Robbie Hummel cashed 8 3-pointers in the first half against the Bucks' zone.ROSTER REPORT
Junior point guard Michael "Juice" Thompson continues to log nearly 40 minutes per game despite a lingering hip injury. Thompson played 40 minutes against Michigan and Wisconsin but enjoyed an "easy" afternoon on Saturday when he played just 39 minutes against Purdue.
Sophomore forward John Shurna's streak of five consecutive 20-point efforts ended. Now he's dealing with a three-game streak in which he hasn't hit 50 percent of his shots from the floor. That includes Saturday's 3-for-11 performance against Purdue, which turned into Shurna's third game of the year where he didn't hit double figures. Shurna posted 9 points against Tennessee State, 8 against Purdue and 6 versus North Carolina A&T.Sophomore center Luka Mirkovic produced double figures in scoring and/or rebounding in each of the last four games. He now owns six double-figure scoring games, four double-figure rebounding games and three double-doubles in his career. He scored a career-high 16 points against Purdue.
Senior forward Kevin Coble (Lisfranc fracture in his foot) and senior swingman Jeff Ryan (torn ACL in his knee) are out for the year. Coble, a second-team all-Big Ten pick last year, has undergone surgery and intends to use his redshirt so he can return next season. Ryan also underwent surgery and seems on target to use his redshirt year and return as well.