NU drops last game of tourney (Basketball)

Scott Duncan

A good start to the season was priority No. 1 for Northwestern as it kicked off the 2005-2006 campaign at the Black Coaches Association Invitational.

After wins in their first two games, the Cats had a chance to start the season 3-0 for the first time since 1993 with a win in Tuesday’s tournament championship.

But North Carolina-Wilmington stepped between NU and an undefeated start.

The Seahawks (3-0) captured the BCA Invitational championship with a 56-48 victory over the Cats (2-1) in Laramie, Wyo.

“We have to look closely at the fact that offensively we don’t have enough guys that can put the ball in the hole,” NU coach Bill Carmody said. “The effort is there. We had open shots, but we couldn’t knock them down.”

Senior forward Vedran Vukusic eclipsed the 20-point mark for the third consecutive night, pouring in 23.

Guard Mohamed Hachad added 10 points.

“We need more guys to be threats on offense,” Carmody said.

The Cats shot 40 percent from the field, 63 percent from the line and committed 13 turnovers.

“We controlled the tempo and played at our own pace, but the little things let us down,” junior swingman Tim Doyle said. “But overall, this tournament was a positive start to the season.

“We had a quality win against a top-50 opponent (Charlotte), and (North Carolina-Wilmington) was no slouch.”

At the start of last season, NU went 1-2 in the Top of the World Classic in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Throughout this year’s preseason, Carmody said the Cats could not afford to repeat last year’s early season problems.

The coach said his team’s play Monday against Charlotte was “the way we want to play.”

After Tuesday’s loss, Carmody said he was satisfied with the strong defensive performance against the Seahawks.

On the offensive end, Vukusic left little doubt he is the leader of this year’s team. The senior, who averaged 16.8 points per game last season, scored 25.3 points per game in the BCA Invitational.

The forward was named to the All-Tournament team in a ceremony following the game.

“Vedran was great,” Doyle said. “We all accept that he’s our best player. There wasn’t too much more we could ask from him.”

But as Carmody said, the tournament showed the Cats they will need more than Vukusic’s impressive performances for a successful season.

Against North Carolina-Wilmington, only Vukusic and Hachad scored more than six points. None of the three tournament games featured more than two players in double figures.

Senior center Mike Thompson scored five points in three games. Thompson, who shot 47 percent from the free-throw line last season, was 0-for-6 in Tuesday’s loss.

Carmody said he told Thompson in the locker room after the game he “shouldn’t confuse missed free throws with a lack of effort.”

“He was very important to us against Charlotte. He set the tone early in that game,” Carmody added. “He may struggle on offense, but if he rebounds and can give us some help offensively, then he will be very important for us.”

Throughout the three-day tournament, Carmody experimented with different lineups, playing 10 players in each game.

Freshman guard Craig Moore played a career-high 15 minutes Tuesday. Junior forward Bernard Cote and freshman guard Sterling Williams logged the first minutes of their NU careers in Laramie.

“I’m disappointed that I didn’t get more minutes for Bernard Cote and Sterling Williams,” Carmody said. “If we’re going to be good this year, we’re going to need those guys.”

Reach Scott Duncan at [email protected]