If Northwestern's John Shurna were in NBA Jam, he'd be so hot that the even the hyperbolic Tim Kitzrow probably would've run out of adjectives by now. After going 10-of-11 from the field against Long Island, Shurna is shooting 64.3 percent from the field and a ridiculous 64.5 percent from three-point range on the season.
Shurna leads the Big Ten in points per game (23.0) and field goal percentage. Teams have been unable to guard the 6'8 junior forward as he's yet to score fewer than 17 points in a game and he only scored that few against Arkansas-Pine Bluff because he played just 27 minutes in Northwestern's 71-45 blowout victory.
Shurna had a few slow starts early in the season, but he's picked things up in every second half and seems to get better as the game goes on. After a five turnover game against Northern Illinois to start the season, he's really worked on hanging onto the ball and also finding teammates. He's had one game since, against Georgia Tech, where he had more turnovers than assists.
Shurna continued that trend against the Blackbirds, including five assists in the first half alone. He finished with a season-high seven assists against three turnovers.
"He was getting some good shots and knocking them down," said Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody. "I liked the fact that he was passing the ball. In the first half he was passing the ball real nicely."
Shurna started hot, going 5-of-5 from the field and shot 2-of-2 from beyond the arc in the first half to score 13 points. In the second half he reaped the rewards of that accurate distance shooting by being able to cut down the lane for numerous dunks.
It's those dunks that really seem to bring Shurna to life. If you watch him closely as he goes to the basket, you can see a little twinkle in his eye right before he flushes it. And those dunks are coming with more regularity this season. Since Shurna's playing alongside great shooters like Drew Crawford and Michael Thompson the lane is open for backdoor cuts. Or there's the occasional break-away dunk thanks to the 1-3-1, like the final one he had against Long Island.
Opponents are starting to notice. In fact, the only way anyone has been able to stop Shurna is by fouling him. Considering he's shooting over 60 percent from distance, it's unfathomable that he's making just two-thirds of his free throw attempts. While an awkward stroke has limited his effectiveness in the past, he's always consistently made around 75 percent of his free throw attempts.
That difference could be a big factor later this season, especially as the Wildcats find themselves in some more close games.
"I don't know what it is," Shurna said after he went 4-of-10 from the line against Long Island. "I think games can be won and lost on the free throw line. So I think I'll be back in the gym tomorrow shooting a lot of free throws."
Even with the funky shooting motion, Carmody isn't worried about Shurna's troubles.
"He'll work on that foul shot," Carmody said. "I think he should be a 90 percent foul shooter. As funky as that shot is, it's all right at the end and he was just a little off balance. He'll work on it."
And once that little problem is ironed out, it's going to be near impossible to contain Shurna.