Cats can't get out of the cellar

John Shurna went off (again), but Northwestern nonetheless lost to a Big Ten cellar-dweller (again). With its 88-80 overtime defeat to Indiana Saturday, the Wildcats' record against the bottom three Big Ten teams -- Penn State, Indiana and Iowa -- fell to 2-4. Shurna tied a career high with 31, but to no avail as Northwestern has now lost four of six heading into the Big Ten tourney.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - John Shurna and Michael Thompson combined for 56 points, but Indiana scored the first seven points in overtime and never trailed in the extra session in downing Northwestern 88-80 in the regular season finale for both teams.

The loss squelched a fantastic comeback effort by the Wildcats as they rallied back from down eight points with three minutes remaining in regulation to force overtime.

Shurna's 31 points tied a career high, matching his total at Michigan State Jan. 30. The sophomore forward completed his Big Ten season with an average of 20.111 points per game against conference foes, a microscopic margin behind Ohio State's Evan Turner (20.125).

The Wildcats got off to a solid start behind seven quick points by Shurna. However, a pair of early 3-pointers by Jordan Hulls helped keep Indiana close and a trey by fellow frosh Christian Watford put the Hoosiers in front 11-10.

IU (10-20, 4-14 Big Ten) would lead the remainder of the half by a tight margin before stretching their advantage to as many as eight, 34-26, on a pair of free throws by Watford with 1:47 remaining in the half.

Northwestern (19-12, 7-11) was fortunate to trail by just six at the half after connecting on only three of 16 3-point attempts over the opening 20 minutes of play.

The Wildcats found their stroke at the intermission with Michael Thompson scoring the team's first seven points after the break to tie the game at 36-36. After four straight points by Indiana, Shurna had a three-point play, drilled a trey and Alex Marcotullio got a lay-in off a steal to put NU in front 44-40.

NU's lead was three following another 3-pointer by Shurna, but Jordan Hulls nailed back-to-back triples and Devan Dumes scored on a runner to put IU in front 59-54 with eight minutes to go.

The Hoosiers' advantage would grow to as many as nine before Shurna scored in the lane and Thompson hit a 3 to get the Wildcats back within 65-61 with 4:41 to go.

But Hulls answered with a desperation 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock, his seventh of the game, to push Indiana's lead right back to seven. A free throw by Jeremiah Rivers made it an eight-point game before NU mounted a furious comeback.

A trey by Thompson cut the deficit to five and after the teams traded stops, Verdell Jones III missed on the front end of the bonus an Luka Mirkovic scored off a feed from Thompson on the other end to get Northwestern within 69-66.

After Northwestern forced a turnover, Thompson's sixth trey of the game knotted the scored with 1:11 remaining.

The Wildcats forced yet another turnover and had the chance to take the lead, but Alex Marcotullio's 3-point attempt came up short. Indiana rebounded and had a chance to win, but NU got a steal with 1.1 seconds remaining. Shurna's 3-point attempt the buzzer was off the mark, sending the game into overtime.

IU came out on fire in the extra period, scoring the first seven points. Northwestern got back within four, but after Hulls threw up an air ball at the end of the shot clock, Bobby Capobianco was there for the rebound, scored and got fouled with 1:26 to go. The eventual three-point play pushed the hosts' lead back to seven and the Wildcats got no closer than six the rest of the way.

Thompson finished with eight assists to go along with his 25 points and made a career-best seven 3-pointers.

NU will open play at the 2010 Big Ten Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Thursday against an opponent to be determined. Check for the tournament pairings once they are available.

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