Men’s Basketball: Northwestern takes down Minnesota in last home game

Dan Ryan

As an emotional Michael Thompson walked onto the court at Welsh-Ryan Arena for the final time Wednesday night, he was greeted with a standing ovation and a loud chant of “Juice!” from the 4,584 fans in attendance.

The senior point guard returned the sentiment.

Thompson went off for 18 points and seven rebounds during his curtain call at Welsh-Ryan as Northwestern (17-12, 7-11 Big Ten) took down Minnesota (17-12, 6-11) 68-57 in its final regular season game.

“Yes, I was a little weepy,” Thompson said. “Not as weepy as I thought I’d be. I did a good job of holding it in, but some tears came out and I was very emotional.”

The first half gave no signs of a triumphant send off for the four-man senior class, which was honored in a ceremony before the tipoff.

Thompson characteristically played every minute of the opening frame, but only managed three points during that span. The Cats shot a dismal 9-of-28 from the floor with a 3-of-15 mark from beyond the arc, and as has been the case all season, the team struggled when their threes didn’t fall.

“We told the guys it was going to be emotional the first five or six minutes of the half, it’s going to be a little rough because of the emotion of senior night,” coach Bill Carmody said. “It was about 25 minutes that it was a little rough.”

Not surprisingly, NU found itself staring at a 31-25 deficit to open the second half. When a Colton Iverson dunk pushed Minnesota’s lead to 10, it seemed as though the Cats would drop the conference series to the Golden Gophers.

“I definitely think I let my emotions get to me in the first half,” Thompson said. “But credit to my teammates: They did a great job of playing well and playing hard tonight, and they stepped up big and they carried me.”

At that point, however, Thompson started hitting shots. And his teammates followed suit.

Before long NU had pulled even with Minnesota at 45.

“About halfway through the second half I made a couple shots, and throughout the entire game I was playing hard and just trying to do my best on defense,” Thompson said. “Thankfully, guys like Alex (Marcotullio) and Davide (Curletti) came in and they stepped up big for us.”

Sparked by Thompson’s run, the Cats never looked back. Sophomore guard Marcotullio, who finished with 18 points, and junior forward John Shurna, who added 15 of his own, hit clutch shot after clutch shot to keep NU in control, and the Cats cruised to an 11-point victory and a memorable win to close out the regular season.

“I just wanted to come out and play looser,” Marcotullio said. “I was trying to make energy plays, and that paid off that last stretch where I got a lot of hands on balls. I think my defense was a catalyst to my offense.”

The team’s focus now shifts to the Big Ten Tournament in Indiana on March 10, when NU will square off again with Minnesota in the opening round. The Cats’ only remaining chance at ending their 71-year NCAA Tournament drought is to win it all in Indiana.

But the focus Wednesday night was on the team’s cardinal captain.

“I’m just happy that I came here,” Thompson said. “It was a great four years.”

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