This was supposed to be this hard. In fact, it was supposed to be harder. Oddsmakers had Indiana by 3 and Ken Pomeroy had Indiana by 4 with Northwestern having just a 35% chance of victory. Well, for once the Wildcats defied the odds and pulled out a 70-64 victory over the Hoosiers.
No, the win doesn't all of a sudden make Northwestern a bubble contender. It doesn't magically give them NCAA Tournament hopes, but it was meaningful. It was the type of win that didn't happen last season. As the Wildcats desperately hung on to NCAA dreams they suffered crushing defeats at Indiana, at Penn State and at Iowa. Those three losses dropped the Wildcats from a possible 10-8 in conference to the 7-11 mark they finished at.
And while 10-8 won't happen this season either, somehow 9-9 is still possible. (That of course would require a minor miracle occurring at the Kohl Center next Sunday.) Even if it doesn't happen, the Wildcats should improve on their conference mark by just taking care of business at home against Penn State and Minnesota. (Again, not necessarily going to happen.)
Northwestern got there though by playing strong in the face of adversity. Michael Thompson scored 22 points while shooting 4-13 from the field because he went 11-11 from the free throw line. Indiana couldn't contain him at the top of the key, except for one odd 5-second call down the stretch, so he relentlessly drove and got fouled.
John Shurna had four fouls for more than 7 minutes, but he never fouled out. Instead he seemed to play better defense as that time went along. Down the stretch he had some of the game's biggest stops against Christian Watford. Shurna finished with 19 points and 5 boards.
Two guys wouldn't have been enough, but that's where Alex Marcotullio comes in. The sophomore guard is starting to understand his role on this team. He's a spark plug off sixth man and when his shot is falling he's a great addition. He finished with 11 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds and a block in 31 minutes of play off the bench. He didn't commit a single turnover.
So Northwestern did what you have to do to win on the road. The Wildcats took 25 free throws compared to 19 for the Hoosiers. They turned the ball over one fewer time and then took advantage of some strong three-point shooting (11-24, 45.8%). It was enough to get the victory and to keep the Wildcats on the verge of a third straight post season berth.