Men’s Basketball: Cats contain Wolfpack for 5th win in 10 days

Danny Daly

For the third consecutive game, Northwestern took on an undefeated team from a major conference away from home. And for the third consecutive game, the Wildcats found a way to come out on top, extending their winning streak to five with another impressive performance.NU prevailed in its first true road contest of the season, defeating North Carolina State 65-53 in a nationally televised matchup at the RBC Center. Tuesday’s game was part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, giving NU a victory in the annual event for the second year in a row.The Cats’ coaches warned their players it would be a difficult atmosphere to play in, and the team responded.”We told them before the game that this was a hostile environment, ACC (opponent), and we haven’t won any away from home in this challenge since I’ve been here,” coach Bill Carmody said. “It was really nice to get this one.”Junior guard Michael Thompson gave another inspired effort, pouring in 22 points. Sophomores John Shurna and Luka Mirkovic provided NU with some balance inside, combining to add 16 points, and senior guard Jeremy Nash had 12 more and a game-high eight rebounds.The early going was a defensive struggle, with the two teams knotted 6-6 after six minutes. But the Cats (6-1) scored the next nine points and were ahead for the rest of the game. Later, they went on a 12-2 run to go ahead by 14, their biggest lead of the night. The Wolfpack (5-1) cut the deficit to 34-24 by halftime.”We followed the scouting report and did a great job rebounding the ball, limiting them to one shot,” Thompson said. “Our defense was very good, and we kept them out of the paint.”NU outrebounded N.C. State 38-31, and the Wolfpack went more than six minutes without recording a board during one stretch in the first half.Shurna paced NU offensively in the first half. The most valuable player of the Chicago Invitational continued his strong play with 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting before intermission.The second half started out similar to the first, and the Cats maintained their 10-point edge with 10 minutes to play. The Wolfpack were still cold on the outside, finishing 2-of-18 from 3-point range. They also shot just 35.2 percent overall and struggled against NU’s 1-3-1 zone.N.C. State still made a couple of charges, though both were rebuffed. The first came after freshman guard Alex Marcotullio was assessed a technical foul after a scuffle for a loose ball.”I told him to keep his composure,” Thompson said. “He has to grow up fast, because he’s going to be playing a lot of valuable minutes for us.”N.C. State senior forward Dennis Horner sank two shots at the line, and junior forward Tracy Smith was fouled while making a layup on the ensuing possession. But Smith, who led all scorers with 23 points, squandered the chance to cut the Cats’ lead in half by missing the free throw. He made up for it by forcing a steal on the other end and finishing it off with a dunk.That’s when Marcotullio redeemed himself. A driving Thompson dished to Marcotullio in the corner, and he hit the shot to extend NU’s advantage back to seven.”Once I drove and saw him open, I knew he was going to hit it,” Thompson said. “His feet were set, and he looked like he was ready to make a shot. All year, he’s been hitting big shots for us, so I’ve got a lot of confidence in him.”The Wolfpack trimmed the margin to 53-49 less than three minutes later, following another fast-break dunk by Smith. The Cats’ veterans didn’t let it get any closer than that – Nash drained all four of his free throws in the last six minutes, and Thompson scored NU’s other eight points to comfortably close out the victory.Thompson saved his best for the second half, which has been a pattern of late. With N.C. State limiting Shurna to only one point in the final period, Thompson contributed 17 of his 22 points after the break. His leadership made a major difference down the stretch.”Mike Thompson came through and settled us down,” Carmody said. “Since he walked in the door two years ago, I’ve given him the ball and said, ‘Run the team.’ For a year-and-a-half, he kept looking over at me and said, ‘What now, Coach?’ I said, ‘Listen, I don’t want to coach during the game – I’ll coach at practice. You take over, kid. It’s your team.’ He did a stupendous job this evening.”It was the Cats’ fifth game in a week-and-a-half, and they proved they could win without much preparation time between opponents. NU now enters a break of nearly two weeks for finals, resuming play at home against North Carolina A&T on Dec. 13.

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