An undermanned Northwestern squad put up a fight against Purdue on Friday afternoon in its Big Ten opener, but it wasn't enough. Still, the final score - 82-69 - doesn't really show how much the Wildcats were able to accomplish playing with a leading scorer, John Shurna, who was clearly not 100 percent.
Shurna's injury affected a lot of different things on the court for Northwestern. It affected Drew Crawford, who couldn't find a way to deal with the extra attention Purdue paid him and finished with three points on 1-6 shooting. It affected Michael Thompson, who scored 18 points, but also had five turnovers and two assists. It also affected Mike Capocci, whose three points really don't tell the story of the effort he gave this team.
Northwestern is a different team when Shurna isn't ready to go and it showed, especially early in the first half. The Wildcats were even slower closing out on three-point shooters as E'Twaun Moore got off to a furious 5-6 start from long-distance and finished with a career-high 31 points on 11-20 shooting and 7-13 shooting from three-point range.
The stats of those three players showed how this game was different. Luka Mirkovic did his job down low against JaJuan Johnson. He scored 16 points, nearly matching Johnson's 19, and even managed to get into the crowd at Mackey Arena a little bit. It was an excellent rebound performance coming off his struggles against St. John's. (On the other hand, Mirkovic's rebounding performance - grabbing just one, was quite underwhelming.)
The other player that had an unexpectedly strong game was JerShon Cobb. The freshman, playing in his first Big Ten game, on the road nonetheless, scored 12 points and showed an ability to get his own shot during the first half.
But Shurna's absence bothered all of the players on the court. Thompson couldn't find open shooters because Purdue bottled up Crawford and Shurna on the perimeter. Crawford couldn't find space because the defense was able to just concentrate on him. On the bright side, Capocci made the most of the 10 minutes he got due to Shurna's troubles. He was the spark that helped the Wildcats get back into the game late - though he was unable to hit the basket that would've cut the game to three.
This game is a building block. A place for Northwestern to go. The problem is, it was also an opportunity. An opportunity to get a good win before even tougher games come along in Big Ten play. Here's hoping Shurna's healthy and the team is ready to go against Michigan State on Monday at Welsh-Ryan Arena.