This game was never supposed to be this close, but while Northwestern found itself trailing by four points at the four minute mark against Tennessee State, the Wildcats still managed to rally and pull out a 69-62 victory in a Chicago Invitation Challenge game on Sunday afternoon at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
The entire Northwestern squad looked flat as the Tigers took a one-point lead into halftime. The Wildcats had 12 turnovers in the first half leading to 16 Tennessee State points. John Shurna continued to press in the absence of other offensive threats. He 2-5 with 5 turnovers in the first 20 minutes. Mike Capocci committed 3 turnovers in just 6 minutes of action. The lone bright spot was point guard Michael Thompson.
Thompson was the only Northwestern player who seemed to be playing Sunday's game to win. He finished with a career-high 31 points on 9-18 shooting from the field. He accounted for almost half of Northwestern's total free throw attempts (10 of 22).
"I was just trying to get my offense in the flow of the game," Thompson said.
Even with Thompson's great day, the Wildcats still needed some help from someone else, while no other player scored in double-figures, both freshman scored nine points. Drew Crawford added 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and a block in 32 minutes, his most extensive playing time thus far this season, and Alex Marcotullio was a perfect 3-3 from beyond the arc in 18 minutes of action.
It was Marcotullio's three with 2:22 remaining that gave Northwestern the lead for good.
"We executed really well on that play and when the ball swung back to the top of the key I knew I was taking it," Marcotullio said. "I was ready to shoot it and I made the shot."
The game though shouldn't have been this close. Tennessee State was coming off a 28-point loss to Northern Illinois. Northwestern beat the Huskies by 22 points less than two weeks ago, but it was obvious on Sunday afternoon that the transitive property of basketball doesn't hold.
"We let them hang around the last five, six minutes of the first half and they have guys," said Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody about the Tigers. "They have guys that can play and you do that with anybody they feel better about themselves. We weren't able to go into the locker room up 14 or 16 which is what I thought we should have."
Northwestern will continue to search for the dominance the Wildcats need to display during the non-conference schedule. For now though, a win is a welcome, if unspectacular start.
Notes: Thompson's previous career high was 27 points against DePaul on Nov. 17, 2007. Northwestern faces Liberty in the second game of the Challenge on Tuesday night.