Bah-Humbug! ‘Cats Collapse in 2nd Half, Lose First Game

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.

Click here for the ESPN game recap.

  • Al

    Hello NIT, if we’re lucky.

  • vaudvillain

    The “home” button in the nav bar is going to ProTV2…

    As for the game — yes, our path to the NCAA just got harder…but it’s way too early in the season for me to give up just yet. I’m not sure we have an answer for the interior defense (we definitely need one)…but I’m not ready to pack it in.

  • CatInTheHat

    @ Al: Whoa–a bit surprised at the pessimism after one loss. Yes, this is a bad one, as St. John’s is mediocre, at best, and we looked like the JV out there in the second half.

    Generally: Kudos to St. John’s for holding Shurna without a point for the last, what, 8 minutes(?). That says more about their effectiveness than it does about our ineffectiveness, as we know from last year that Shurna can shine against almost anyone.

    Anyway, we’ll see how this team responds and how things shake out. I still think that a 10-1 non-conference slate and a winning Big Ten schedule gives us a shot at The Dance. That means that we have to sweep the Indianas and Iowas (improved though they are), along with Penn State, and steal 1 of 2 from just about everyone else. I think it’s a possibility. The beauty of the Big Ten is that you have so many shots at signature wins, and if you play up against the better teams, a squad like NU can come away with a few.

    Let’s take a deep breath.

  • NCat99

    The loss stings for sure, and while we should have shot better in the second half, there’s only so much you can do when the opponent shoots 80%.

    SJU was never going to put us in or keep us out of the tourney. This is about winning all the Big Ten games we “should” (unlike last year) and stealing a couple upsets, ideally one to two on the road.

    Go Cats!

  • NUNUNU

    Rough loss, but I had a bad feeling about this game after I saw that Carmody left the NU starters in for all but the final two minutes against St Francis. When you play just a 7 man rotation and are up by 30 with a tougher game coming up the next day, I think its ok to give the guys a break.

  • BG

    Guys – I’m not a basketball strategist by any stretch of the imagination, but why does Carmody stay with the 1-3-1 when we’re getting absolutely ABUSED down low? If he’s such a great \tactician\ and \X-and-O’s guy\, why doesn’t he adjust? It was like watching the varsity vs. the freshman team out there…awful. How bad must our man-t0-man defense be that he refuses to go to it when we’re giving up easy layups EVERY time down the court? Also, would it have killed him to call a timeout when the St. Johns was making their run in the 2nd half? Instead, he just turns to the bench, shrugs and whines to the guys nearest him on the pine.

    OK – rant over. I’m still fairly bullish on this team, but when we aren’t hitting the outside shot, we have no margin for error. Also, St. Johns exposed one other major weakness of ours: besides Shurna (and Juice and Crawford to some extent), we don’t have anyone who can create their own shot. So when the motion offense isn’t creating opportunities, we’re screwed.

    Very depressing, considering St. Johns has already lost to St. Bonaventure and Fordham. But I agree with the previous poster who said that this wasn’t going to make or break our tourney resume, regardless of what happened. It’s all about having a winning record in the Big Ten and recording some quality wins over the teams in the top half of the conference.

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  • Lake The Posts

    @vaudvillain – thanks for the tip -having hosting company adress this!

  • http://www.sippinonpurple.com Loretta8

    @BG: the 1-3-1 was bad, but NU’s other defenses have been even worse this season. Crappy teams like Northern Illinois and Texas Pan-Am have scored pretty easily vs NUs man/matchup zone, so yes, our man to man is that bad. I agree re: the timeouts.

    @LTP: while it was certainly unfair that Curletti had to take those free throws, the problem with letting NU choose the shooter is that then you could have guys faking injuries to get a bad foul shooter off the free throw line.

  • Wildcat99

    I am not an NU basketball expert by any stretch (I mostly watch the football games only), but I was at the game last night at Madison Square Garden and I couldn’t help but notice that the team just didn’t seem to have any emotion. They didn’t seem to be having fun out there (and it wasn’t because they were losing, because it was the same in the first half when they were winning). Perhaps part of yesterday’s breakdown was due to too much stress which translated to a bad FG% (41% I believe).

  • Lake The Posts

    @loretta8 – my buddy and I were discussing the flagrant foul aspect in particular. The goal of any rule is to create fair play. When you have a system that actually offers an incentive for intentional harm down the stretch, the rule needs to be changed. Think about it. You’re down 3 with :30 to go and the other team gets a breakaway. You’re better off intentionally fouling and trying to remove the player from the game so you can then pick the worst shooter on the floor. Obscure – absolutely? However, proves the point of the flawed approach. If a player is injured on a flagrant foul the offensive team should have the choice to select any shooter on the floor.

  • http://www.sippinonpurple.com Loretta8

    @LTP: Ok, so you’re saying that the offensive team should only get to choose after an intentional foul? I could get behind that, although you would still see the occasional fake injury.