Men’s Basketball: Out with a big bang

Matt Forman

Northwestern was on the wrong side of a 14-3 run and found itself trailing by seven with a little more than 10 minutes to play against Iowa. Its emotional leader and the conference’s best 3-point shooter, guard Craig Moore, was 0-of-7 from long distance.

The Wildcats (16-11, 7-9 Big Ten) looked like they would fall short to the Hawkeyes (14-15, 4-12) on Senior Day, the last home game of the year at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Saturday afternoon.

That’s when sophomore guard Michael Thompson resuscitated the Cats, who clawed back to win 55-49.

“Craig played like he was choked up for 35 minutes, but Mike Thompson kind of just bridged the gap,” coach Bill Carmody said. “I think we don’t win the game without that kid tonight. He came right in, and bang!”

Trailing 39-32 after leading the majority of the first half and controlling the tempo in the second half, Thompson knocked down three consecutive 3-pointers to tie the game at 41.

“To me, that was the ballgame right there,” Iowa coach Todd Lickliter said.

Each of Thompson’s shots from beyond the arc was bigger than the last. The first of his deep shots came from the left corner early in the shot clock. On the next possession, Thompson connected from the left wing. On the third 3, Thompson drilled the long-range jumper behind a screen set by freshman Luka Mirkovic with just seconds remaining on the shot clock.

“I think it was huge, given the point in the game he was shooting those,” junior forward Kevin Coble said. “For him to not only take those shots, but knock them down was big. It kind of steadied the ship for us.”

But the Cats weren’t done. On the ensuing possession, Coble, who scored a team-high 16 points on 7-of-14 from the field, hit a 3 from the left wing.

After struggling the majority of the game to get open looks, Moore put an exclamation point on the Cats’ 15-4 run to mount a four-point advantage.

“I don’t even think I saw the hoop on that shot,” Moore said. “The one shot that I don’t look at the basket, it goes in. I’ll take what I can get though.”

Ahead just 49-47 with 54 seconds to play, Carmody called a timeout to set up one last shot. Fittingly, it was Moore who connected after the inbound pass to put the game away for NU.

Moore capped off the final home game of his career with 11 points. Thompson added 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting, while playing the entire game and not committing a foul.

NU took a 12-7 advantage in the first half with five different players contributing to the early scoring. The offensive outburst slowed down, however, and each team suffered a scoring drought of at least five minutes in the opening period. Despite leading by seven with two minutes to play before intermission, NU allowed Iowa to bring the game within one at halftime.

The last time the two teams met, NU was unable to hold on to a one-point advantage in the final minute. Saturday’s game differed not only in the result, but also in the style of play.

The Hawkeyes made just 14 shots in the previous contest, but 12 were from long distance. To combat Iowa’s strength, NU played its 2-3 matchup zone, which held the Hawkeyes to just 28 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

Still, Iowa exploited the zone with penetration into the lane. Hawkeyes guard Jake Kelly led all scorers with 23 points and added five rebounds and three assists.

“He’s like a snake, serpentine,” Carmody said of Kelly. “He’s crafty as can be, and he just slides around guys when it doesn’t look like he’s moving that fast.”

With the win, NU finished the season with a 13-4 home record, its best since the 1982-83 season, when Welsh-Ryan was being renovated and the Cats played at Alumni Hall on DePaul’s campus.

With post-season hopes aplenty, the Cats have guaranteed a winning record for the season. They have two road games remaining in conference play, against Purdue and Ohio State, before the Big Ten Tournament.

“People say it’s good to be playing your best basketball going into March when it’s tournament time,” Thompson said. “I think myself and my teammates are playing our best basketball right now.”

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