So close, yet so far. That's going to be the story of the Northwestern season in 2010-11. Once again the Wildcats had a chance for a breakthrough victory and they fell just short. Ohio State's Jared Sullinger hit a free throw after Northwestern was unable to get a shot up on their final full possession and the Buckeyes escaped with a 58-57 victory.
Northwestern's (13-8, 3-7) final chance came on a 40-foot heave by Drew Crawford, but it will be the second-to-last opportunity the Wildcats had that Bill Carmody and Alex Marcotullio will keep wishing they could've had back. Marcotullio thought he had a back door lay up to JerShon Cobb, but David Lighty swiped the ball away and Ohio State (22-0, 9-0) got a chance to set up the final play.
"Al thought he saw JerShon open on the back screen for a lay up and he didn't get it," Carmody said. "They came down and that was it. It was discouraging because clearly you want to get a shot in that situation."
It's tough to blame Marcotullio for the pass. He is probably Northwestern second most gifted passer in terms of court vision behind Michael Thompson and Marcotullio makes excellent passes often. He finished with two assists and two turnovers.
Of course this game will be remembered also for who wasn't playing, as much as who was for Northwestern. John Shurna sat this game out and it changed the strategic complexion of the game in a number of ways.
For one Northwestern went to a "burn" strategy against a very talented Ohio State squad. The Wildcats attempted to limit the Buckeyes' possessions and then lock down on the shooters when the opportunities came. It worked too. The game was played at a turtle like 49 possessions. It was one of the slowest games of the season in NCAA Division I.
"That's the best strategy for us," Thompson said. "We're a better team when we slow it down and we play at a pace which we're comfortable running at."
It will be very interesting to see what strategy Carmody plays moving forward. He's worked hard this season to prove that his team can move the ball and win games getting out into the open court, but with more tough games against top competition coming up - like Illinois on CBS at Welsh-Ryan Arena next Saturday - will he keep it slow?
It didn't improve Northwestern's defense any. The Buckeyes still managed to get 1.18 points per possession and Thad Matta said that he was happy with his team's production on offense even in the first half when they had 27 points because they were scoring over a point per possession.
The second thing that changed with the injury to Shurna is that Mike Capocci was inserted into the starting lineup. He went on to finish second in the team in scoring with 11 points. He played 24 minutes and made plays in every facet of the game with four boards, including two offensive, an assist, a block and a steal. It was an excellent game for him as he did it all on seven shots. He even hit Northwestern's first three of the game, which seemed to get a stagnant offense moving.
Of course Capocci also had to deal with Sullinger at times in the post. Since the big freshman is technically Ohio State's power forward, he ended up against Capocci on the block a number of times. As the Wildcats were reluctant to come off of Ohio State's shooters for double teams it was a tough go sometimes for the undersized Wildcats underneath. Northwestern though seemed to be able to take advantage of it on offense as they drew Sullinger out to wing and found more space in the middle for back doors and running their offenses action.
Overall it was a gutty performance from a team that was missing it's star player and had one of its other stars, Crawford who shot 2-12 from the field including 1-8 from three-point range, bottled up almost completely. Still, it was the same old story for the Wildcats, close, but not good enough.