14 January 2012

NORTHWESTERN 81 Michigan State 74 (F)

We are grateful for this great team victory for a number of reasons.  First it puts NU (12-5, 2-3) at 2 wins for the very difficult opening trimester of the B1G slate.  With a difficult trip coming up to Madtown that will round out the first trimester a win tonight was important to keep NU on track to sneak into the NCAAs.  Second with another three difficult games on deck the win keeps NU from enduring a potentially long losing streak which helps immensely with this team's mental attitude.  And last but not least is that it staves off the circling anti-Carmody vultures for the time being which means no immediate need for another rant from our associate editor who wears his heart on his sleeve especially after a night of indulgent imbibation. 

Anywho things did not look promising during the first 10 minutes of the game when #6/7 Sparty (15-3, 4-1) rode hot shooting and nice low post feeds to a 25-16 margin.  Sparty could've stretched the lead to double digits and really had the Spartan faithful roaring from the rafters, but instead an Alex Marcotullio steal that was converted into a Drew Crawford bomb brought some air back into the building and narrowed the deficit to 6 points.  The deficit was then cut to 4 when Davide Curletti stole a rebound from Sparty and converted the offensive board. 

NU stuck with MSU the rest of the first half with the game shifting gears after two Alex Marcotullio bombs the first of which knotted the game at 33 to give NU its first tie since 4 all and the second one giving NU a 36-34 lead.  Sparty responded with a trey of its own, but a desperation 25' foot Shurna prayer was answered with a few seconds to go, and NU took a 39-37 lead into halftime.

NU opened the second stanza with a backdoor layup from Sobo to Hearn, and it was at that point that it appeared that the second half may very well look like the latter part of the first half.  Good news!  NU held its lead and even stretched it to double digits around the midway point of the second half.  Sparty managed to slice the gap to 5 points with a quick 7-0 run aided by a turnover and hoop when two Spartans converged on Reggie Hearn near midcourt to pick pocket him and get a break away layup.

The tension at that point was palpable since NU fans have been conditioned to expect the worst.  Except this time NU responded to the challenge by taking the ball to the hoop, getting fouled, and then converting free throws.  With crisis averted NU went on to rebuild its double digit lead with less than 5 minutes to play, and NU played loose and coasted to victory the rest of the way.

Davide Curletti was a surprise starter in the game, and boy did he deliver!  As we said prior to the season Davide is good for a handful of good games, and this may have very well been the best performance of his career.  Davided had three very important offensive rebounds that he converted into points, and on the evening he netted 17 points on 5-7 shooting including 1-1 from beyond the arc.  Better yet is that Davide departed from his propensity to hack opponents as he ended with 4 fouls over 36 minutes of run and didn't pick up his last foul until the game was effectively over.   Davide also had 4 assists, 2 steal, and a block to round out his sparkling afternoon.

NU's "big two" also showed up with Crawford banking 20 points on 8-14 shooting including 3-5 from downtown.  Despite only shooting 5-14 from the floor Shurna had a game high 22 points thanks to 10-11 shooting from the charity stripe.  Johnny also had 5 assists, no turnovers, 2 blocks, and 1 steal in 40 minutes of play.

Reggie Hearn had an extremely efficient 29 minutes scoring 10 points on 5-6 shooting and also grabbed two important offensive rebounds.  Dave Sobolewski didn't have a good day shooting the rock (1-6, 0-3) but he filled his role as floor general quite well and wound up with 7 assists to just 1 turnover.  It makes us smile to think we can look forward to seeing Sobo in purple (or should we say black?) for another 3+ years.

The biggest reason for NU's victory was that NU held its own on the boards against the mean green rebounding machine (NU had 19 boards to MSU's 24).  Another key was that NU had just 7 turnovers to Sparty's 14.  Had NU turned the ball over more Sparty very well could've won this game as Appling did a very good job of pushing the ball up the court and converting easy hoops before NU could set its defense.  Lastly NU did a good job of getting to the charity stripe and had 29 attempts in the game.  This aggressiveness has been an emerging trend so far in conference and is a nice departure from past Carmody teams.

Next up is a roadie to Madison to take on the Badgers on Wednesday Jan 18 at 8PM Central.  Bucky has had some surprising difficulty early in the B1G slate and is sitting at just 2-3 despite winning its last game 67-62 at Purdue.  The knock on Bucky is that their offense is just bad enough to give them fits despite a very good defense.  We don't really buy that and expect Wisconsin to right the ship just as they did in the 2008-09 season when they started out 3-6 in conference but finished the regular season on a 7-2 tear.  The Kohl Center has been a house of horrors for NU, and we expect more of the same this year.  Kenpom.com gives NU just a 7% shot at victory which sounds about right to us.  Still Iowa was able to come out of Madison with a 72-65 victory so you just never know.