You were afraid there might be nights like this. Northwestern squandered a first half lead they managed to create without the services of Juice Thompson (saddled with foul trouble) and Jershon Cobb who was sidelined with a scary injury on a nasty flagrant foul. The ‘Cats came out firing on all cylinders and appeared to be en route to a 100-point night. Shurna was draining NBA threes, Drew Crawford was on fire and we were starting to flirt with a double-digit lead. Dwight Hardy single-handedly kept the Johnnie’s alive with his three-point shooting, but this game changed on one single play.
With the ‘Cats surging, JerShon Cobb hauled in a fumbled pass and was on route to a clear dunk. Tourney MVP Justin Brownlee absolutely clobbered Cobb making little attempt at the ball and Cobb appeared to land head first in to the support. He was writhing in pain and somehow managed to eventually collect himself enough to come back in the game. In a must-change new NCAA rule Steve Lavin then was able to select Davide Curletti to shoot the four free throws. Curletti made only one of three and the comeback began from St. John’s side. I thought up 40-37 at the half on the heavy shoulders of John Shurna was simply unstoppable for 30 minutes tonight and with Juice riding the pine with two fouls for a good chunk of the half we’d be OK. Boy was I wrong.
Our fear of the defensive interior was exposed as St. John’s simply penetrated and dished to the low post block for lay-up after lay-up. Get this, St. John’s shot 16-20 from the floor as a team in the second half. NU meanwhile was out of sync as Drew Crawford went cold and Juice was contained. Shurna continued to score at will and had 28 points with 11 minutes to go. He wouldn’t score again. The poor guy simply ran out of gas down the stretch as he was the only one that was truly on tonight and Carmody had to keep him in like a NASCAR leader who you pray has enough fuel to inch to the finish line.
Folks, we’ve got some real problems in the post on defense. I hope for Luka Mirkovic’s sake he ditches the mask as he is clearly tentative at both ends of the floor with the mask on. He gave up a straight-away four footer. The kid has a ton of heart as we’ve seen and he went timid at times. We also can’t afford to have Thompson and Crawford “off” for long stretches. Northwestern simply went cold as Lavin did a great job of having his guys get physical to disrupt the off-the-ball flow and Juice was defended very well by St. John’s point guard. Being outscored 48-29 by anyone in a half is inexcusable, but especially against a St. Johns’ team that is below average by Big East standards. The Red Storm shot 80% from the floor in the second half and Brownlee frustrated Shurna for much of the second half as we were held to a miserable 29%.
One game does not make a season, but NU just dug themselves a hole that they’ll need to likely steal another quality Big Ten win than we were hoping for to make the dance. They sure did not look like a tournament team on this night. We’re going to need Welsh-Ryan and the students like never before to help this team as we are very good when we’re on, but the blueprint for stopping this team was drawn tonight and every Big Ten coach will be eyeing this second half to build their strategy against us. It was a neutral court environment at best as the NU turnout was fantastic including Barry Cofield and a host of former NU players ranging from Kip Kirkpatrick to Joe Branch. It’s December. Remember. A long way to go. Hopefully NU will rebound with authority on Thursday against Mount St. Mary’s at Welsh-Ryan and then it is off until Purdue on 12/31. Tough, tough loss to swallow.