Northwestern vs. Creighton recap: Winning with defense

In the first half, it was the same old story for Northwestern. The offense was clicking, as the 'Cats shot 57% from the field and only committed one turnover, but Creighton was still in the game thanks to the dominant inside play of center Kenny Lawson, who looked to be on his way to 30 points and 15 rebounds. Interior defense continued to be a problem, and the halftime lead was 8 only because Lawson had to sit for a while due to foul trouble.

And in the second half, Northwestern came out  ice cold, turning the ball over like crazy and forcing difficult perimeter jumpers early in the shot clock. Normally that would be a recipe for disaster, but the defense clamped down and the 'Cats actually managed to open up the lead, as they were never really threatened in the second half and won by 13.

                                                                                     College Basketball

I have to give Bill Carmody a lot of credit in this one, as his game plan was a big reason why Creighton struggled so much to score. He kept switching between the 1-3-1 zone and the match-up zone, changing it up every 4 minutes or so.  All the different looks really seemed to confuse Creighton, as it often took them a while to get into their sets.  The 1-3-1 in particular caused a lot of problems; the zone forced a lot of turnovers and kept Creighton almost exclusively on the perimeter.

I also have to give Luka Mirkovic credit for stepping up in the second half. In the first half, he was horrendous; Lawson was abusing him in the post and he was bricking perimeter jumpers and free throws on offense. He bounced back nicely though and was largely responsible for holding Lawson scoreless after halftime, playing solid post defense and even blocking Lawson's shot once. In the past, Mirkovic would often completely disappear after a slow start, so this was encouraging to see.

Another key was defensive rebounding. For the game, Creighton rebounded just 26% of their misses, and many of those came on a first half possession where Lawson rebounded his own miss 3 straight times before finally converting on his fourth try. In the second half, Creighton was one and done almost every time they missed, a sign that the rebounding is improving.

Player bullets

- John Shurna continues to play at an All-Big Ten level. He had 23 points on just 13 field goal attempts, and had 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and only 1 turnover. He set the tone for Northwestern right from the opening tip, scoring on everything from one-handed dunks in transition to NBA range 3-pointers. Shurna was so on fire early that Greg McDermott called for Shurna to be double-teamed immediately after touching the ball a few times, which I can't ever remember a coach doing. I know it's early, but I think Shurna is the favorite to lead the Big Ten in scoring, it feels like a given that he'll get at least 20 every time he steps on the court.

- Michael Thompson had his usual excellent floor game, with 3 assists and just 1 turnover, and he had 18 points on 8 of 10 shooting. Usually Juice does most of his damage from the three point line, and while he did hit 2 threes in the second half to break the game open, 6 of his field goals came on lay-ups after beating his man off the dribble.

- Drew Crawford had perhaps his worst game in a Northwestern uniform, turning the ball over 4 times in a 10 minute second half stretch (including once where he mistook a ref for one of his teammates, no seriously, that really happened). Crawford also didn't attack the basket off the dribble very much, as 7 of his 9 field goal attempts came on perimeter jumpers. This was especially disappointing because he was often being guarded by Kaleb Korver, who couldn't have stopped Crawford off the dribble had he been allowed to use a two-by-four. 

- JerShon Cobb started, but played just 14 minutes and had 2 points on 1 for 4 shooting. After a bad pass early in the second half, Carmody relegated him to the bench the rest of the night, a decision that made sense because....

- The bench did a nice job chipping in, as 4 guys played double digit minutes. Davide Curletti had 7 points and 6 rebounds in 15 minutes, and looks to be a better perimeter shooter than Mirkovic. Unfortunately, he still struggles with foul trouble, as he had 4 in his 15 minutes, and he's a bit undersized when matched up against opposing centers.

- Mike Capocci and Jeff Ryan combined for 8 rebounds in their 29 minutes and played solid team defense. Both were complete non-factors in the offense, as their only scoring was a Capocci put-back lay-up. I thought Ryan may have turned the corner offensively after shooting the ball confidently against Northern Illinois, but last night he wanted no part of wide-open threes. While this duo contributes in other areas, it's a problem in the Princeton offense when the other team doesn't have to guard them on the perimeter.

- Alex Marcotullio played 10 minutes, and although he was invisible on offense, he was very active on defense, contributing a team-high 3 steals. Truth be told, he was a bit too active at times, committing a couple of unnecessary fouls. Marcotullio has good instincts going after the ball defensively, and if he can harness his aggression a little bit he could become a solid defense/energy guy off the bench to go along with 3-point shooting.

Overall, I was encouraged by what I saw last night. Good times find a way to win on off-nights, and despite a very poor second half offensively, Northwestern still cruised to victory against a decent opponent. Hopefully they can keep it up tomorrow night against Georgia Tech.

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