Northwestern’s unpredictable season continued Sunday with a road game against the Illinois Fighting Illini. Before beating Nebraska Thursday, Northwestern had dropped three straight and was by no means looking like a tournament team. After a close contest in Champaign in which neither team dominated, the Wildcats made some key plays down the stretch and pulled out the victory over the Illini, avenging the one-point loss from earlier in the season.
2 – John Shurna scored 24 points to move into second place on the Northwestern all-time career scoring list, surpassing Evan Eschmeyer. Shurna is averaging 36.6 minutes per game this season, the highest mark he’s ever recorded, and with that has come his highest scoring average at 19.4 points per game. Against the Illini Shurna shot an incredible percentage, making 11-15 shots including 2-4 three-pointers. With 1,808 career points, Shurna is now just 92 points behind Billy McKinney for Northwestern’s all-time scoring leader.
20 – Junior guard Reggie Hearn set a new career-high against the Illini, scoring 20 points in 32 minutes of play. Hearn played an extremely effective game, converting 7-8 field goals – including 4-5 from beyond the arc – and adding two free throws to round out his career night. He scored 16 of his 20 points in the first half alone. After not starting a single game in his first two years with Northwestern, Hearn has started every game for the Wildcats this season and games like this show just how effective he can be.
40 – It can’t be said enough: Northwestern’s roster is sorely depleted. Both Drew Crawford and Dave Sobolewski played all 40 minutes of the game while Shurna added 38. In fact, the only substitute in the game was Davide Curletti. Crawford and Sobolewski have both been playing exceptionally heavy minutes this season as Northwestern’s injury problems mount, but to have two key guys play an entire game without rest is less than ideal – especially as the ‘Cats have four games over the next two weeks.
Sixth man of the game: Davide Curletti
Considering Curletti was the only substitute to play in the game, this is a pretty easy choice. Still, the senior center has stepped up big time this season, especially in the wake of Luka Mirkovic’s injury. Against the Illini, Curletti didn’t score but he did tally four rebounds and a steal. Most importantly though, Curletti contributed 20 minutes of play, which means that Carmody got 20 minutes of rest time to distribute among his five starters.
Play of the game:
While the ‘Cats led for much of the game, the lead was never a comfortable one. Shurna kept Northwestern barely ahead but with three minutes to go, the lead was just one. Then, with 2:59 remaining in the game, senior Davide Curletti hit Reggie Hearn with the backdoor pass and Hearn converted the layup, giving the Wildcats a three-point lead. After two solid defensive stops, Northwestern got another bucket from John Shurna to give the ‘Cats a five-point lead with just over a minute to play and from there Northwestern held on to pull out the road win.
Where does Northwestern stand?
The ‘Cats have clawed their way to a 4-6 record in Big Ten play and a 14-8 record overall. Still, not much has changed – Northwestern still needs to rack up the victories to keep any semblance of tournament hopes alive. Wins over Illinois and Nebraska don’t amount to much to the Selection Committee, especially after the blowout losses against Wisconsin and Minnesota. Realistically, Northwestern’s best shot at making the NCAA’s Big Dance is to win the Big Ten Tournament, but the ‘Cats kept their hopes for an at-large bid barely alive with the win over the Illini.