Northwestern ends season on high-note

By Etheria Modacure

Northwestern University’s basketball team (17-12, 7-11 Big Ten) came into the season with high hopes of making its first NCAA tournament appearance in the college’s history. With the disappointments stemming from the season, the Wildcats were able to end it on a high note on March 2.

After a string of injuries to their leading scorer, forward John Shurna, and struggling on scoring defense, the Wildcats were able to end their season with a victory over the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers (17-12, 6-11 Big Ten), 68-57 on March 2.

The Wildcats trailed by 10 points with 13:59 remaining in the second half before storming back to take the lead and notch a victory over the struggling Golden Gophers. Senior point guard Michael “Juice” Thompson and guard Alex Marcotullio led all scorers with 18 points apiece.

After shooting 32 percent in the first half and trailing 31-25 at halftime, the Wildcats made adjustments to the Golden Gopher’s defense to shoot 43 percent in the second frame. Minnesota had 12 turnovers throughout the game which netted Northwestern 14 points off of those mistakes.

“We told the guys it was going to be emotional for the first five or six minutes because of the emotion of senior night,” said Northwestern Head Coach Bill Carmody. “It was about 25 minutes that it was a little rough. It just seemed [like we were] out of sync on offense.”

In the first half, the Wildcats weren’t able to make any shots from behind the arc as the Golden Gophers limited movement within the paint. Northwestern shot 3-for-15 on 3-point field goal attempts while Minnesota kept making easy shots on offense, shooting at 50 percent before halftime.

Thompson had just three points in the first half on 1-of-8 shooting, while Shurna and guard Drew Crawford combined for seven points.

The Golden Gophers were able to score nine points off of seven turnovers in the first half from the Wildcats and outscored them 24-10 in the paint.

Carmody said he and the coaching staff felt the team was playing tightly in the first half with the exception of Marcotullio.

“We had some nice looks in the first half from a bunch of guys,” Carmody said. “In the second half it just seemed like our defense picked up. We kept saying ‘we’ve got to get stops’ and we were careless in the first half, [Minnesota] had two or three layups.”

While the Wildcats were struggling to capture the emotion of senior night for the majority of the game, a classic three-point play by Marcotullio ignited the crowd in Evanston. Trailing the Golden Gophers 45-43 after a 3-pointer by Shurna, Marcotullio attempted a layup and was fouled by forward Blake Hoffarber.

Marcotullio connected on the free throw and, after a failed 3-point attempt by Minnesota guard Austin Hollins, hit the go-ahead 3-pointer to extend the Wildcats lead to 49-45.

“I was a little loose today,” Marcotullio said. “I haven’t played well in the last two games, I just wanted to come out and play looser. I was trying to get my hands on [the basketball] and make energy plays. I think my defense was the catalyst for my offense.”

The victory was also bittersweet for Thompson who will graduate from Northwestern this spring as its all-time leader in assists, 506, and games played and started at 123. Thompson and Carmody exchanged an emotional hug towards the end of the game and Carmody joked that the point guard told his team to help him get more points in the second half.

“I definitely think I let my emotions get the best of me in the first half,” Thompson said. “Credit to my teammates, they did a great job of playing well, playing hard tonight. They just stepped up big and they carried me.”

Thompson said he didn’t recall saying he needed more points in the second half to jolt the team and he rarely cares about his scoring. He admitted that he was a little weepy during the senior night ceremonies and was pleased with his accomplishments at Northwestern.

“I was a little weepy but not as weepy as I thought I would be,” Thompson said. “Some tears came out, I was very emotional. Just happy I came here and it was a great four years.”