Two teams entered 0-3 in the Big Ten; one emerged with a tremendous burden removed from their shoulders. Since the injury to star forward John Shurna, the conference’s leading scorer, the Northwestern Wildcats have been struggling mightily. But they took care of IU 93-81 Sunday night, to improve to 10-4.
By Paul M. Banks
The Wildcats got their first conference win, and broke a three game losing streak at home; in front of a Welsh-Ryan Arena crowd that looked to be about 40-60% dressed in red and cheering for the Hoosiers.
The Cats jumped out to a big lead early, and then never let up, as this one was decided by halftime. NU limited Indiana’s main two weapons, sophomores Maurice Creek and Christian Watford (the conference’s leading scorer among sophomores) to zero points at half on combined 0-8 shooting.
Watford got it going later, finishing with a team high 17. But Coach Tom Crean didn’t play Creek at all in the second half for whatever reason, (maybe his four turnovers in the first half) and he finished with a big donut for the game.
Any time Northwestern beats Indiana it’s big news as IU holds a commanding 109-47 advantage in the all-time series. In fact, the Hoosiers beat the Cats 35 straight times in Bloomington over a 41 year span (1968-2009)
This was a nice physical and mental rebound for NU who looked simply awful at Champaign Thursday night in a 25 point rout that was even more lopsided than it sounds.
The Cats got a big game from junior center Luka Mirkovic, who continued his bi-polar home and road splits, scoring 20 points on 7-11 shooting and grabbing 12 rebounds. This atfer going 1-4 and contributing jsut two points in the road loss to the Illini.
“I think this game kind of proved what our team is all about, obviously the Illinois game was pretty bad, and after such a poor effort I think most of the guys were upset. But I think our attitude at yesterday’s practice was unbelievable, and we were very confident heading into this game,” Mirkovic said.
John Shurna looked much better and much closer to complete health than he has in any of the conference games so far, leading the game with 24 points, on game 6-9 shooting (4-5) from behind the arc.
“he’s the leading three point shooter in the country for a reason and you can’t give him any space. He’s going to be a pro for a long time and he’s a credit to the league, he’s a credit to college basketball, and obviously that ankle’s getting better, he’s out there battling,” IU coach Tom Crean said.
You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank
He also does a regular guest spot each week for Chicagoland Sports Radio.comFollow paulmbanks