Gutwrenching loss for Northwestern

Gutwrenching loss for Northwestern

Posted by Lindsey on Thu, 01/15/2009 - 23:40
For those of you scoring at home, Northwestern's 63-61 come-from-ahead loss to No. 19 Purdue on Thursday night is the Wildcats' 17th consecutive loss against ranked teams. Not only was this one the closest of the bunch -- though their 3-point loss to No. 15 Indiana last February ended similarly -- this one ranks as the most galling because the Wildcats have no one to blame but themselves. Well, you could blame Ed Hightower's call with 2.2 seconds left that sent Purdue center JaJuan Johnson to the line to break the 61-61 tie. As I sit here in empty Welsh-Ryan Arena, I haven't seen a replay of the call. Hightower whistled Jeff Ryan, who was playing behind Johnson, for pushing Johnson after he caught a post pass. At the same time Johnson caught the pass, senior guard Craig Moore doubled down and stripped him of the ball. When he heard the whistle, Moore high-stepped to half-court in dismay as he handed over the ball. Like I said, I haven't seen the replay and I didn't get to talk to Jeff Ryan, but I've got to believe there's something screwy when Purdue's players couldn't correctly dissect the call. Purdue forward Robbie Hummel: "I think Juice Thompson just swung down on his arm and he caught him on the arm and it was a good call." Problem No. 1: Juice Thompson wasn't in the game. Bill Carmody substituted the 6-foot-6 Ryan for the 5-9 Thompson just in case Purdue threw the ball inside to Johnson. Problem No. 2: Even if Hummel mistook Moore for Thompson, that's not the foul that was called. JaJuan Johnson himself: "Yeah, I got fouled. I definitely got fouled. He tried to strip me, but he slapped me on the arm." Same Problem: The slap on the arm, if that's what Moore did, wasn't what was called. Anyway, that's probably here nor there. As Moore said, if the Wildcats don't miss so many layups and free throws, then it doesn't matter and NU is celebrating a convincing win that puts the program back on track. Instead, their postgame carryout meal (pasta, sauce, meatballs and garlic bread) will sit awfully heavy in their stomachs for a while. Nonetheless, the game provided several revelatory moments for the Wildcats that shouldn't be lost like the way their 13-point halftime lead was. 1) THE BENCH: With freshmen starters John Shurna and Kyle Rowley out of their element against the quicker, smaller Boilers (they played a combined 6 minutes and had all 3 of their shots blocked), Carmody went to the bench early and often. The five subs (Luka Mirkovic, Ivan Peljusic, Jeremy Nash, Sterling Williams and Jeff Ryan) played a combined 94 minutes and contributed 23 points, 12 rebounds, 9 assists, 5 steals and 5 turnovers. The 94 minutes was the most time for the bench since the Central Arkansas blowout in the season opener. It should serve as a sign that the Wildcats either need to switch up their lineup or need to continue to give the subs more time. Mirkovic entered early and drilled his first career 3-pointer as part of his 8-point, 4-rebound, 3 assist effort in 16 minutes. More and more, he looks like the prototypical Princeton-style center that Carmody described to me a few weeks ago: "If you were on the floor with him, you'd like playing with him." Peljusic, meanwhile, produced 7 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists in his energetic 21-minute stint where he always seemed to be sprinting around hugging teammates. Nash played 28 minutes and shot an aggravating 1 for 6 from the field, including the fast-break layup he missed with 19 seconds to go, but he had a remarkable spree with his frenetic effort at the top of NU's 1-3-1 zone. During a four-possession stretch midway through the second half, he stole an E'Twaun Moore pass (it could have been ruled a kick), teamed with Ryan to trap Moore to force a jump that went NU's way, and stole a Keaton Grant pass that he tried to turn into a fast-break layup (but Grant swatted it away). 2. THE 1-3-1 ZONE TRAP: Last year, Carmody used this as his primary defense. This year, it has been his changeup when he wants to switch from the 2-3 matchup for awhile. In this game, he figured the 1-3-1 might work best against the quicker Boilers and tried it from the start. When Purdue committed 5 turnovers in the opening five minutes (enroute to a season-high 22), Carmody decided to use it the entire way. Because the Wildcats were so active in it -- as good or better than they'd been all year -- it looks like a viable way to deal with future opponents. Look for Illinois to get the 1-3-1 treatment. No. 18 Minnesota, which comes to Evanston on Sunday, might be in line for it as well. 3. THE REBOUNDING: In the first half, Purdue outrebounded NU by just 1. The Wildcats limited the Boilers to just 3 offensive rebounds and 4 second-chance points. But in the second half, the Big Ten's No. 9 rebounding team (all games considered) hammered the Wildcats 30-15 on the glass. Among Purdue's 8 offensive boards? Robbie Hummel's putback with 1:46 left that tied the game for the first time since it was 2-2. 4. THE BLOCKS: Purdue recorded an amazing 14 blocked shots for the night, which was one off the Big Ten record for a conference game. Now, JaJuan Johnson is a 6-foot-10 pterodactyl who's going to get his share of blocks. But he came in averaging 2.1 blocks per game, so for him to have 7 was a little crazy. I can't picture all of his blocks in my head -- I know a few came when he provided help from the weak side -- but I'm willing to bet every single one came where the Northwestern player didn't even try to create contact. You know how you have to come inside on a big heavyweight puncher? You've got to take the ball to the slender Johnson's body so he can't use his wingspan. 5. THE FITZ FACTOR: Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald brought his boys to the game, but they had to leave at the eight-minute timeout of the second half. The Wildcats led 53-43 when the Fitzgerald men walked out into the North Shore tundra, but Purdue went on a 20-8 spree the rest of the way. Coincidence that the Wildcats' defense started to go sour shortly after Fitz left? I think not. LW
Comments ()
We are now using Facebook comments to offer a more inclusive, social and constructive discussion. Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our or terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.