Men’s Basketball: Slam-dunk exhibition opener for NU

Rodger Sherman

Northwestern didn’t forget they lost to an NAIA opponent in last year’s exhibition opener.

After falling 69-62 to the Eagles in last year’s exhibition game, the Cats pulled away from Robert Morris early and never let them back in, winning 78-49.

“The difference was us,” senior forward Kevin Coble said. “We knew about last year. That was in the back of our mind a little bit.”

The Cats dominated every facet of the game: they brought down 33 defensive rebounds as opposed to 33 overall for the Eagles, and the Princeton offense looked to be in midseason form, as the Cats recorded 24 assists.

“We don’t know what type of team they had,” coach Bill Carmody said. “But it’s nice to get a win. Winning is contagious.”

John Shurna led all players with 21 points and seven rebounds, followed in both categories by Coble’s 15 and six.

Surprisingly, NU’s leader in assists was Jeff Ryan. Ryan, who hasn’t been known for his offensive ability, made the NU offense click. He knocked down a three after going 0-5 from beyond the arc all last season, and dished out four assists, including a nifty pass to find a cutting Mike Capocci on a backdoor cut, who slammed down an emphatic dunk.

“Ryan was our best player out there today, ” Carmody said. “Getting steals, running the team, passing the ball. We broke it in the first half, and he was responsible.”

Rather than scrapping for a victory in the closing minutes of the exhibition, the Cats were able to empty out the bench and give their least experienced players some time to work out the kinks.

“I wanted to play (freshmen) Alex (Marcotullio) and Drew (Crawford),” Carmody said. “Get them in there and miss shots and mess up and not do what they’re supposed to, and come around a little bit.”

Crawford, a highly-touted freshman recruit, got the start in the shooting guard spot Craig Moore abandoned last year. Crawford looked shaky, fouling out of the game and airballing an open jumper, but threw down one of NU’s three dunks in the game and outjumped his man for a strong block on a jumper.

NU played 14 of the 15 players on their roster.

“It’s a long season,” Carmody said. “And those guys on the end of the bench like to get in there too.”

The only player not to get in was last year’s starting center Kyle Rowley, who was only medically cleared to play yesterday after breaking his foot in the offseason.

Robert Morris started out strong, cutting an early NU lead to 18-17. However, a 13-3 run followed, featuring three 3-pointers by sophomore John Shurna.

“We didn’t get frantic,” Coble said. “We stayed poised, and did a nice job of wearing them down.”

Robert Morris scored the first four points of the second half to cut NU’s lead to 35-30. But after a 12-3 run, NU never looked back.

“We did a nice job of wearing them down,” Coble said. “With ten minutes left in the game, they were exhausted.”

NU was able to exhaust the Eagles through tough defense – eight steals led to multiple uncontested breakaways – and offensive rebounding. The Cats brought down 18 offensive boards, compared to 64 in all of last season.

“Coach tried to make a statement that we have a big team,” Shurna said. “We cause some matchup problems down low.”

Once they brought in the offensive rebound, the Cats usually found a man open beyond the arc: 11 players threw up threes, and although the team only went 9-31, those long jumpers led to more long rebounds.

Despite the 29-point margin of victory, at least one observer was not satisfied.”We have so much to work on,” Carmody said. “It’s not even funny.”[email protected]