The Northwestern Wildcats now have a victory which they can hang their hat on this season. The Wildcats defeated Notre Dame 72-58 in an exciting victory at UIC Pavilion in the Chicago Invitational Challenge.
With the victory Northwestern will take on Iowa State on Saturday night.
Unlike the game against Butler, the Wildcats appeared to be prepared for the game against Notre Dame. John Shurna scored a career high 25 points and Northwestern defeated the 23rd-ranked Fighting Irish.
There were times in this game when Northwestern (4-1) was tested. While the Wildcats had a 12-point lead midway through the second half, Notre Dame (5-1) fought back to pull within two points. Whenever Northwestern needed to make a play, the Wildcats found the right button to push. Whether it was the defense of Jeremy Nash, the long-distance shooting of Alex Marcotullio, or the toughness of Shurna and Michael Thompson, there was a response waiting.
Thompson added 20 points and Marcotullio 13. Shurna also had a team-high 8 rebounds.
Luke Harangody was able to get his points. He scored 21 and grabbed 9 rebounds to keep the Fighting Irish in the game. Notre Dame had 13 offensive rebounds and out-rebounded Northwestern by 7, but the Wildcats clamped down on the perimeter as Notre Dame shot just 23% (7-31) from beyond the arc.
This was Notre Dame's first game against a major opponent and there were times when the Fighting Irish looked unprepared for the ball pressure and challenged shots the Northwestern defense provided. Also, after finding themselves in blowout mode the previous four games, Notre Dame wasn't able to switch to comeback mode.
Now even people like ESPN's Andy Katz are jumping back on the Northwestern bandwagon. This was a big victory, but the Wildcats can't afford to give away all their momentum tomorrow against another big inside presence in Iowa State's Craig Brackins. Katz is right, the NCAA Tournament hopes though are very much alive again.