Alright, so the headline might be a bit of hyperbole, but when Northwestern was down 17 points to Michigan midway through the first half things certainly did look bleak. A loss would've dropped the Wildcats to 0-3 in the Big Ten and put them way behind in their attempt to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever.
And then Drew Crawford took over and Northwestern won 68-62 in An Arbor. The freshman swingman proved this isn't your typical Northwestern team with a series of threes, put-back dunks and athletic moves around the basket. He scored 25 points and grabbed 8 rebounds. It was a strong overall performance that really bailed out his teammates.
There were a number of other bright spots in the game for Northwestern as well. The defense played much better in the second half as the Wildcats held Michigan to 25 points in the second 20 minutes. Bill Carmody said after the game on Big Ten Network that he told his defenders to be more aggressive. He also apparently told them to guard much higher on the perimeter and the trapping of Crawford, Jeremy Nash and Luka Mirkovic really seemed to both the Michigan guards and slow down the rhythm of the offense.
Another positive for the Wildcats in the game was the play of Mirkovic on the offensive end. He was assertive early, in fact he was the only person that scored for Northwestern for a good chunk of the first half, and then he continued to make his presence felt throughout the game. The sophomore center finished with 13 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks and 4 assists in 23 very productive minutes. Maybe this will help his confidence and he can be an even bigger force moving forward in conference play.
Crawford had his moments throughout the game for Northwestern. After he rescued the Wildcats with two big threes (and an 11-point run on his own), he continued to play at a high level. Crawford played 36 minutes, including the final 5 or so with 4 fouls and made a number of heady plays. At the end of the game his teammates seemed to be looking for him along the baseline, as Crawford was fouled twice while going to the basket. He knocked down the free throws and helped the Wildcats ice the victory.
Still, there are freshman moments for Crawford. You can tell sometimes that he's surprised by the athleticism of players like Manny Harris. There were two moments where the junior guard for the Wolverines really schooled his younger opponent. One was a steal late in the game and the other was a fast-break lay-up where Crawford needed to either let Harris get the two points or foul him harder. Neither happened and Harris got a 3-point play.
Those plays though were far outnumbered by the good ones Crawford made. His efficiency on offense was ridiculous. 25 points in 15 possessions in a Big Ten game for a freshman is beyond ridiculous. (See there's a reason Crawford was on this list of the Top 25 freshman.) Sure, he'll make bad plays when he doesn't trust his athleticism, but when he does great things happen.
More notes in bullet-point format:
- Michael Thompson looked a little better today than the last few games. He might be getting healthier. He was 5-12 from the floor, but 4-7 from beyond the arc and scored 15 points. He also had 5 assists.
- Alex Marcotullio is going through a freshman shooting slump right now. He was cold again today. He went 0-5 from the field and scored 0 points.
- DeShawn Sims had 13 points at halftime, he finished with 17 points. Sims is someone who has killed the Wildcats in the past. Inside players have dominated Northwestern this season. It was nice to see them finally contain one. Keeping Sims out of Michigan's offense in the second half made them much easier to guard.
- All this win really means is that Northwestern has another huge game on Wednesday against Wisconsin at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The Badgers have knocked off Purdue and Duke at home, but have lost to Michigan State, Green Bay and Gonzaga away from the Kohl Center. The game is at 7:30 p.m. and the place should be rocking for Wednesday night hoops.