Men’s Basketball: Cats can’t close out Badgers

Rodger Sherman

For seven minutes, the rims at Welsh-Ryan Arena got a workout.

After sophomore forward John Shurna hit a layup to put Northwestern ahead 37-36 with a little less than 15 minutes left in the game, both teams went cold. They combined to miss their next 18 field goals, including 13 straight by Wisconsin.

Then Trevon Hughes remembered how to score, guiding the 13th-ranked Badgers to a 60-50 victory.

“We finally found what it looked like to move the net,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “It didn’t look like it was moving very much.”

After going 0-for-9 from the field to start the game, Hughes drilled four of his last five 3-point attempts to finish with 16 points. The long-distance barrage turned a game the Wildcats led with five minutes remaining into a double-digit Badgers victory.

“It’s obviously frustrating,” Shurna said. “Once it gets down to crunch time, we’re going to have to step up, instead of just hanging with them for 35 minutes and letting it slip away.”The Cats came out strong, scoring seven straight points to go ahead 7-2 in the opening minutes. But the five-point lead was NU’s largest of the game.

The Cats entered the half tied 27-27 due to contributions from two unlikely sources. Senior guard Jeremy Nash topped his season average for points per game (8.3) in the first half with nine on a variety of pull-up jumpers. And sophomore center Luka Mirkovic took advantage of an injury to Wisconsin forward Jon Leuer, recording seven points and four rebounds in the opening period.

But after intermission, both options dried up. Mirkovic’s low-post advantage disappeared, as Wisconsin stuck with center Keaton Nankivil for most of the half rather than depending on shorter alternatives like 6-foot-6 guard-forward Ryan Evans. Tighter defense stopped Nash from getting open looks.

“Jason Bohannon was guarding me most of the game,” Nash said. “He started being more aggressive, pushing up on my hip as I came off the screen, so I think they did make an adjustment to start guarding me more aggressively.”

The Cats lost the game on the defensive glass. After shooting 50 percent in the first 20 minutes, Wisconsin converted only 8-of-26 shots in the second half despite earning multiple open looks against NU’s 1-3-1 zone. But the Badgers’ shots came from deeper range led to longer rebounds, and an outsized Wisconsin team grabbed the misses.”They would miss a shot, rebound, miss a shot, rebound,” coach Bill Carmody said. “You know, two, three, four rebounds.”

Jordan Taylor, Jason Bohannon and Hughes combined to collect 11 rebounds in the final period. With NU up 48-46, two consecutive Wisconsin possessions featured a missed 3, a long rebound to Taylor and an easy assist to Hughes for a trey. Hughes drained four 3-pointers-three off of offensive rebounds-in a two-minute span near the end of the game. He followed each make by emphatically pretending to roll dice.

“We just didn’t get a hand up,” Nash said. “We ran out there with our hands down and not in his face, and he knocked them down.”

After an even board battle in the first half, the Badgers dominated the glass in the second, outrebounding the Cats 25-14. Wisconsin snagged each of the last 11 caroms.

“Early on we seemed to do a decent job with rebounding,” Shurna said. “And then there was that stretch there the last five minutes or so when they really started crashing the glass.”

With an increasing number of hustle plays toward the end of the game, the Cats lack of depth started hurting them. In a game that remained within two possessions most of the way, Carmody used only seven players. Alex Marcotullio and Kyle Rowley entered the game for 12 combined minutes, registering no shot attempts and no points but picking up five fouls.

“Both teams were hustling,” Ryan said. “Bodies were flying into one another, the ball was getting tipped. But we seemed to win what we call skirmishes a little more tonight.”

[email protected]