13 February 2012

PURDUE 87 Northwestern 77 (F)

Northwestern's (15-9,5-7) NCAAs aspirations were dealt a blow last night in a hard fought 87-77 loss to Purdue (16-9,6-6). With the loss NU fell into a seventh place tie with Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa.  Purdue is now alone in sixth place and has an edge up on NU with the NCAA Selection Committee with the season series sweep.

Neither offense could get untracked in a rugged first half as a tough nosed Purdue defense knocked NU off its spots while switching NU defenses kept Purdue off balance.  Purdue managed to squeeze out a 34-29 lead as the teams headed to the locker rooms -- the largest margin for either team in the half.  The Wildcats played well out of halftime and managed to nose out to a 48-47 by the ten minute mark.  It was at that point that the game changed complexion.

The light went on for the Purdue offense, and it was full steam ahead for Boilermakers over the next 8 minutes.  During this stretch Purdue scored on 12/13 possessions that included 9-11 shoooting from the field and 4-4 from the charity stripe.  Northwestern's offense also excelled, but 18 points were not enough to keep pace with Purdue's incredible 27 points and other worldly 201.7 offensive efficiency.  Over the final couple of minutes NU went into foul mode to extend the game, but Purdue converted enough of the freebies to keep the Wildcats at bay.

There were two Purdue possessions during this pivotal stretch that were true spirit breakers.  The first possession came at the 7 minute mark when Purdue got the ball after a Shurna jumper had tied the score at 57.  The NU defense stayed solid and ultimately forced Purdue's Terone Johnson to hoist a bailout three as the shotclock expired.  Naturally the 29% shooter from distance swished it.  The second possession was around the 3 minute mark when NU's defense forced Ryne Smith to miss a difficult jumper.  Perhaps having grown accustomed to seeing Purdue shots go through the net NU neglected to box out a crashing DJ Byrd, and Byrd made NU pay with an uncontested layup on the rebound.

Individually Johnny Shurna had a standout game.  Shurna was at his best in the second half when he scored 23 points and was instrumental in keeping NU in the game despite Purdue's uberefficient offense.  For the game John had 30 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks and no turnovers.  Dave Sobolewski also had himself a nice game tallying 12 points on 2-3 shooting from distance and 3 assists to zero turnovers.  This frosh guard continues to impress.

Drew Crawford had an up and down game.  Drew had several good plays including an invigorating dunk that had NU faithful fans thinking late in the second half that if only NU could get a defensive stop or two then a resume building road win might be in the offing.  Two missed layups and a second technical foul that ejected him from the game ultimately torpedoed NU's comeback effort.  Alex Marcotullio frustrated us with another poor game.  Marcotullio did knock down his only shot of the night which was a pretty looking bomb, but one shot in 30 minutes of play is not nearly enough production.  Worse yet was his three costly turnovers and a silly fifth foul 75 feet from the basket with 2:30 to play and NU trailing by 6 points.

Next up is a trip to Bloomington on Wednesday to take on a rejuvenated Indiana (19-6,7-6) squad.  This is a scary matchup for Northwestern.  The Hoosiers have lost only once this year at Assembly Hall (Minnesota) and have taken down Kentucky and Ohio State in the friendly confines.   Indiana has the #1 ranked B1G offense in conference that relies upon superb outside shooting (also #1 in conference) coupled with a post game solidified by the addition of superfrosh Cody Zeller.

The Hoosiers must be licking their chops as they watch film of the league's worst defense.  NU's short bench has forced Carmody's hand to play more 1-3-1 than he might otherwise prefer.  The vulernabilities of the 1-3-1 are open spaces in the corners which just so happen to be the preferred Hoosier shooting location.  Unless the 1-3-1 can force copious amounts of turnovers this game could get ugly right quick.