After two tough losses set Northwestern back, the ‘Cats earned a huge win Saturday, beating the Minnesota Golden Gophers 64-53. The win keeps Northwestern on the tournament bubble as the team prepares for its last four games.
While this game is obviously big for Northwestern’s tournament chances, it will go down in history as the night John Shurna became Northwestern’s all-time leading scorer. The senior was held scoreless for the first 16 minutes of play and whether he would break Billy McKinney’s 35-year-old record was questionable. Then, Shurna erupted for 12 points in the final 3:40 of the first half and finally made history early in the second half on a three-pointer.
“Obviously it’s an honor,” Shurna said after the game. “I wasn’t really focused on trying to score points. It was just a good all-around win.”
And it definitely was – this game will go down as one of Northwestern’s best.
41-20 - Northwestern was out-rebounded 41-20 Saturday night, which needs to be addressed – quickly. Northwestern was clearly at a size disadvantage heading into the game, but the ‘Cats should still be able to rebound better than this. Thankfully, Minnesota wasn’t able to take advantage of the second chances, but with several tough games coming up, rebounding could be the deciding factor between a win and a loss.
4 - JerShon Cobb had a great defensive game Saturday, grabbing four steals and providing pressure at the top of Northwestern’s zone defense. Four steals alone aren’t overly impressive, but they’re a good representation of the pesky defense that Cobb brought to the table. Cobb isn't a volume scorer so he is often overlooked, but Northwestern isn’t exactly a great defensive team and having Cobb available will be a big boost down the stretch as the ‘Cats fight to make it into the tournament.
Sixth man of the game: the crowd
The official attendance is listed at 7,522, but there wasn’t a visible empty seat in Welsh-Ryan and the crowd was a big factor during the whole game. Often Northwestern’s big crowds consist mostly of fans from opposing teams, but against Minnesota, Welsh-Ryan was packed with nearly all Northwestern supporters.
The crowd noise especially picked up with each of Shurna’s baskets as he neared the scoring record; when he finally achieved the mark, Welsh-Ryan was at its loudest. While the arena will most likely never be mentioned among college basketball’s toughest places to play, there’s a reason why the ‘Cats play so much better at home and Saturday night was a prime example.
Play of the game:
This one is a no-brainer – it has to be John Shurna’s three-pointer that made him Northwestern’s all-time leading scorer. The shot wasn’t overly important in this individual game, but breaking the record shows how good of a player Shurna is and how much Northwestern relies on him.
There are a lot of reasons why Northwestern is on the brink of making the NCAA tournament for the first time ever, but Shurna is the most important. Without his production night in and night out, Northwestern would be a .500 team at best. Seeing him break the record at home was a special moment, and the crowd got the opportunity to show how much it appreciates his play.
Where does Northwestern stand?
Northwestern improved to 6-8 in Big Ten play with another big game coming up against Michigan on Tuesday night. Winning three of the next four would put Northwestern at .500 in conference play and with a couple of wins in the Big Ten tournament, they should have a good enough resume to make the Big Dance.
There’s certainly a lot of pressure on Northwestern to perform well, but as Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said, “The good players want more pressure.” These next few games will show just how good Northwestern is.