Northwestern's NIT dream run came to a crashing halt against Washington State 69-66 on Wednesday night in Pullman, WA. Well, it was actually Thursday morning for most of the Wildcats' fans by the time the game ended, but those people weren't the only ones that looked exhausted. Bill Carmody played his five starters for the majority of the second half and by overtime the Wildcats just didn't have enough left in the tank.
The loss means that they'll be no return trip to Madison Square Garden for the Wildcats and Juice Thompson's career has come to a close. Northwestern's senior leader hit a number of big shots in the game, but he, like the majority of the team, struggled shooting the ball and finished 3-12 from three-point range and scored 18 points.
The shots missed early because Northwestern appeared confused by Washington State's perimeter oriented trapping defense. The Cougars used a 2-3 zone very effectively to limit Northwestern's looks on the perimeter. So the Wildcats kept backing up and launching longer and longer three-point shots. Northwestern ended up attempting 39 threes in the game and hitting just 10 (25.6%), but they still had a chance at the end thanks to a defense that allowed less than a point per possession for the first time since March 2 against Minnesota.
On offense Northwestern was carried by the play of Alex Marcotullio. The sophomore guard continued his late-season run with 16 points on 5-9 shooting, but it's two of those misses - on the Wildcats' final possession - that he'll probably remember the longest.
Another player that's going to want to get back to workouts quickly is John Shurna. While Shurna did a good job helping out on Klay Thompson, who finished with 17 points - five below his average, he struggled shooting the ball. Shurna went 3-13 from the field. He did grab 8 rebounds, but scored just 8 points. It was an unmemorable end to a frustrating season for the junior forward.
Northwestern was lucky to get to this point though. The Wildcats almost lost at the end of regulation when Drew Crawford committed a silly foul underneath the basket with almost no time left on the clock. Crawford got a gift though when Abe Lodwick missed both shots to send the game to overtime.
In overtime the Wildcats never found their rhythm as it looked like tired legs finally took over. While Mike Capocci, JerShon Cobb and Davide Curletti played in spurts during the first half, they barely saw the floor in the second. Next season Northwestern is going to have develop a deeper bench. No matter what style of basketball you play it's tough to win when there are only five or six guys you trust to be out on the court during the course of a game. There are very few college basketball programs that consistently win while doing so. (Ohio State comes to mind as a notable exception.) The development of the bench, whether it's from the incoming freshman, the growth of Curletti or maybe even Nick Fruendt is going to be a determining factor for how 2011-12 shapes up.
And that's what we're looking forward to now, because 2010-11, while a heck of a run, is in the books and it's time for Northwestern to start getting ready for next season.