Men’s Basketball: John Shurna struggles, presses on for Northwestern

John Shurna doesn’t want to talk about his ankle.

“A lot of attention has been given to the injury, but a lot of other guys have stepped up and played really well and that should be really noted more,” Shurna said.

Unfortunately for the mild-mannered forward, who has notched Big Ten player of the week honors twice already this season and was named to the elite Naismith and Wooden watch lists, it’s a tough topic to avoid.

After sustaining the injury during Northwestern’s Dec. 23 win over Mount St. Mary’s, the junior has been off his game – something that even Michigan State coach Tom Izzo noted after Shurna shot just 1-for-11 from the field in the Wildcats’ 65-62 loss to the No. 18 Spartans on Monday night.

“I don’t think Shurna is 100 percent,” Izzo said. “Watching him move earlier in the year and watching him move these last two games, I don’t think he’s quite there, and you know, they need him. He’s their best player.”

The timing couldn’t be worse for NU, which hits the road Thursday night to face No. 20 Illinois, its third ranked opponent in as many games. Monday’s matchup against Michigan State found NU just shy of staging an upset, with senior point guard Michael Thompson leading the team’s 12-0 run on a nine-point spree in the last four minutes.

The Cats shot uncharacteristically poorly against the Spartans, converting four of their first 23 field goal attempts in the second half. Shurna knocked down just one of his three point attempts and earned the rest of his 11 points on the night from the free throw line, finishing significantly off his 22 points per game average.

Sophomore guard Drew Crawford picked up some of the offensive slack, pitching in a team-high 17 points and eight rebounds. Still, without a totally healthy Shurna controlling the perimeter, NU lacked the sort of offensive swagger that has earned it the Big Ten’s second highest points per game average.

“I’m not going to use it as an excuse or anything,” Shurna said. “I played pretty poorly and I kind of let my teammates down there and I’m not going to use my ankle as an excuse for it.”

Excuses aside, when NU makes the trek to state rival Illinois, it will face an equally potent scorer in senior guard Demetri McCamey, who shot 75 percent from the 3-point range in wins over Iowa and Wisconsin last week, earning him Big Ten co-player of the week honors with Purdue’s E’Twaun Moore.

“Somebody asks me yesterday, ‘As McCamey goes, they go?'” Carmody said. “And I said, ‘Yeah, like Shurna and Thompson go, we go.’ Every team has guys that, they play well, they’re going to win. If they don’t play so well, then who knows?”

When NU is not busy trying to contain the potent McCamey, it will look to improve on its shooting performance both from beyond the arc and inside the paint.

Michigan State outworked NU in the paint on Monday night, outscoring the Cats 30-17. It marked something of a drop off for junior center Luka Mirkovic, who posted a career-tying 16 points in NU’s loss to No. 12 Purdue last week but managed just six against Michigan State.

From behind the arc, Thompson said he will still look to Shurna.

“I know he’s not 100 percent, but he’s still a good player and all – he’s still been playing well for us,” Thompson said. “He just hasn’t been knocking down as many shots as he normally does. But you know he’s our best player, our best scorer, and I am still trying to go to him as much as possible. I’m going to try to get his confidence going.”

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