Northwestern took care of business in the first round of the Madison Square Garden Holiday Festival, beating the St. Francis Terriers 92-61. The ‘Cats, off to an 8-0 start, will take on St. John’s Tuesday night in the tournament’s final round.
Hero of the game: Drew Crawford
The Big Apple brought out the best in Crawford. He finished with a near triple-double (25 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists) that was sure to make his father (and NBA referee) Dan—who was in attendance—proud. He showed up on a big stage for a Northwestern team that is beginning to make its statement for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. The Big City’s bright lights set the scene for a big night, but Crawford is the component that needs to be consistent if the Wildcat “Big Three” will carry the team in conference play. Senior Michael “Juice” Thompson and junior forward John Shurna each turned in solid nights as well, (14 pts & 4 ast, and 26 pts & 6 reb,respectively), but Crawford stole the show.
Stat of the game:4 Wildcats reach double figures
Shurna, Crawford, Thompson and freshman JerShon Cobb all reached double figures in this one. The Wildcats ran the Terriers off the Madison Square Garden floor and did damage from distance. Northwestern hit 10 threes, with the four players in double figures accounting for all ten. As soon as Northwestern got used to shooting in the World’s Most Famous Arena, they began to put the Terriers on the run midway through the first half. St. Francis also contributed to the “running and gunning”—as New York Knicks legend Walt Frazier might put it—for Northwestern by missing a bunch of shots that ignited the fast break.
Turning Point: 15:24 remaining in the second half.
While a very solid first half performance had given the Wildcats a 14-point lead going into the break, a 7-0 St. Francis run to start the second period once again made it a competitive game. The Wildcats and the Terriers traded baskets for a few possessions, until Drew Crawford put the game out of reach with a clutch fast break layup (off a heads-up steal by John Shurna), putting the shot in despite being fouled by Dre Calloway. Crawford drained his free throw, then came right back down the court off another Terrier turnover to put together his second consecutive three-point play.
Crawford’s bucket kick-started a 14-3 run over the next four minutes, extending the Northwestern lead to 20. The Wildcats never looked back after that run, eventually finishing with the 31-point final margin that earned their starters a much-needed reprieve before tomorrow evening’s final matchup.
Where to Improve: Disciplined Fouls.
The 31-point margin of victory makes it difficult to find a fundamental flaw in the Wildcats’ performance on the Garden floor Monday, but the high number of fouls committed by Northwestern defenders was easily their greatest sign of weakness. The Wildcats racked up 20 fouls as a team, lead by Davide Curletti’s 4 fouls in 14 minutes of play. The Terriers reached the bonus in the second half after just eight and a half minutes, and ended up attempting 22 free throws on the night (fortunately for the ‘Cats, they only made 13). Every one of Northwestern’s starters notched at least two fouls, but with the double-digit lead, they were all able to leave the game before they came too close to fouling out. While the damage caused by the fouls was mitigated by the 21 turnovers that the aggressive defense forced, that number of free throws against a more fundamentally sound team would likely be deadly.