Men’s Baskeball: Shurna hits shot, builds confidence

Matt Forman

January 25, 2006. Northwestern trailed Purdue 66-63 on the road with 11.8 seconds remaining. All eyes were on Wildcats senior forward Vedran Vukusic, who had 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting from the field at that point, giving Boilermakers defenders problems in the post all game.

Coach Bill Carmody knew Purdue would over-commit on Vukusic, so he drew up a play for the most unlikely of players: then-freshman Craig Moore. The little-known guard from Doylestown, Pa., was averaging 6.8 points per game. But Moore had the hot hand, shooting 2-of-3 from distance in the second half, and the fifth-year head coach knew it.

Moore came off a screen set by Vukusic on the right wing and fired a desperation shot with .9 seconds left on the clock.

It was good, NU won the game in overtime 78-76, and Moore, who scored 10 points in the game, hasn’t been the same since.

“That was my shot,” Moore said, of the one shot that changes his confidence level. “In practice, you might feel different for a day or two, but the older guys will put you into place,” he joked.

Kidding aside, Moore is the most prolific perimeter player in the Big Ten and one of the best pure shooters in the country.

Fast-forward three years to mid-February of 2009. NU found itself tied at 69 with 13.8 seconds on the clock. Moore and junior Kevin Coble had combined for 49 of the team’s points. Instead of calling a timeout, Carmody called for freshman forward John Shurna to check in.

With 3.3 seconds left, Shurna accepted a pass from sophomore Michael Thompson in front of the Cats’ bench, took one step left, and connected on a 23-foot fallaway jumper. The Cats won 72-69.

“John’s was a lot bigger than mine,” Moore said. “You can see it already, he’s confident.”

Carmody has seen this before. It happened with Moore, and he sees it happening with Shurna now.

“I remember that game,” Carmody said of Moore’s shot. “We flipped the play in the huddle and said we’re going with you. … I don’t know if you can attribute it all to one shot, but Shurna’s was a big shot.”

Still, it’s not new territory for Shurna. The 6-foot-8-inch, inside-outside threat from Glen Ellyn competed in the Illinois 4A 3-point shooing contest as a senior. Despite playing in the post for the majority of the season, Shurna reached the state finals of the competition before falling short.

And if Carmody were to host an in-house long-distance shooting contest, Shurna might be the only current player to challenge Moore.

“What time would it be at,” Carmody asked. “4 p.m. or 8 p.m.? At eight o’ clock, always Craig. At four, maybe John, or, heck, I’ll even go out there.”

Shurna’s skill-set extends beyond being a sharpshooter. In the same state competition, Shurna won the slam-dunk contest with an awe-inspiring between-the-legs throw down.

“It would either be (sophomore forward Mike) Capocci or Shurna,” Moore said of a hypothetical dunk contest. “From 3, if someone had a great day and I had a bad day, someone might be able to challenge me. Maybe.”

Regardless, as NU gets ready for its last Big Ten home game of the season, it will be looking for another big performance from Shurna, who has started every game this year. The Cats face Iowa at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Saturday.

Despite his recent success, Shurna insists his mindset hasn’t changed.

“I’m still the freshman,” he said. “Nothing’s new.”

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