it certainly wasn't pretty, but Northwestern pulled away down the stretch to beat woeful Indiana and win their 20th game of the season. Michael Thompson led the way with 16 points, John Shurna added 14, and Davide Curletti had a career high 12 points off the bench.
In the first half, the 'Cats were ice cold on 3-pointers, hitting just 2 of 18, and if it weren't for solid work on the offensive glass (made easier since Indiana was in a zone the whole game), the Hoosiers may have had a big lead. Instead, Indiana only led by 3, as a Shurna tip in at the first half buzzer gave Northwestern some momentum heading into the locker room.
But that momentum didn't carry over, as the cold outside shooting continued and Indiana stretched the lead to as many as 8. And when Luka Mirkovic fouled out with just over 10 minutes left, things didn't look good. However, Northwestern clamped down in the 1-3-1 zone, and Indiana completely lost their composure, committing turnover after turnover and letting the 'Cats pull ahead. Michael Thompson then got hot, scoring 11 points in less than 3 minutes, capped off by a deep three to give NU a 10 point lead with 4 minutes left and effectively seal the game. Northwestern hit their free throws (18 of 20) and Indiana continued to turn the ball over, making the final margin a deceptive 15 points.
A key factor in the win was the production off the bench: Curletti had 12 points including 6 for 6 from the free throw line, and Alex Marcotullio returned to his early season form, with 8 points, 5 assists, and solid defense. While he tried to do too much at times, it's nice to see him looking like a Big Ten player again. Of course, the other key factor was Indiana being absolutely awful down the stretch. The Hoosiers panicked against the 1-3-1 and started turning the ball over like crazy (18 times in the game with most coming in the last 10 minutes) and looked a lot like the team that lost 11 straight games earlier this year, most of them by huge margins. Tom Crean has a ton of work to do if he wants to get the Hoosiers back to a Big Ten contender.
There were some good signs tonight, namely the bench production and Thompson's cold-blooded scoring in the 2nd half, but it's going to take a vastly superior effort to beat Purdue tomorrow. Jeremy Nash's jump shot has seemingly abandoned him; while he had 13 points, his only field goals were on open lay-ups. Drew Crawford continues to be limited by his injury, and Luka Mirkovic was a complete non-factor. Curletti did a nice job scoring off the bench, but he doesn't have the size or strength to bang inside, so Mirkovic will have to stay on the court. Also, 22% 3-point shooting isn't going to get it done against a top 10 team.
Despite the ugly first 30 minutes, a win is a win and the 'Cats lived to fight another day. See everyone tomorrow, and hopefully we get a better turnout for the game thread, although there was a firebillcarmody sighting.