Men’s basketball: Small Cats lineup outplayed on road

Dan Ryan

In an effort to ignite a spark and create mismatches on the offensive end of the floor, coach Bill Carmody chose to sit senior center Luka Mirkovic on Wednesday against No. 13 Michigan (14-3, 4-1 Big Ten), choosing instead to go small with three guards and two forwards in the starting lineup.

Unfortunately for Northwestern (11-5, 1-3), the lineup move did not pay off, as the Wildcats fell to the Wolverines 66-64 in overtime.

Mirkovic, who is averaging 22.5 minutes per game, played 18 in the contest, but came off the bench after senior forward Davide Curletti.

In his time on the court, Mirkovic registered only two rebounds and two points on two attempts.

The decision to go small coincided with complete domination by Michigan on the offensive glass, as the Wolverines out-rebounded the Cats 17-5 on the offensive end. NU managed only one offensive board in the first half.

“We just didn’t get those rebounds,” Carmody said. “In the second half they got those offensive rebounds, and it takes its toll on the other end.”

Junior forward Drew Crawford believed the lack of rebounding was a team failure, however. Michigan missed 23 three-point attempts, and NU wasn’t able to adjust to secure the offensive boards.

“Rebounds were bouncing long,” Crawford said. “We didn’t do a good job realizing that.”

The lineup change did have its benefits. Senior forward John Shurna, who was guarded by Michigan center Jordan Morgan, took advantage of the mismatch and scored a team-high 21 points.

Crawford, who contributed 20 points of his own, said the matchup created chances elsewhere for the Cats.

“It gave us some good opportunities,” Crawford said. “(Shurna’s) man was center and didn’t get off him to help as much.”

Despite the advantage, Crawford and Shurna were the only two Cats in double figures, accounting for 64 percent of the team’s scoring.

The NU defense, however, which ranks 11th in the Big Ten allowing 65.6 points per game, had another good game in what was a rare bright spot for the Cats. After holding the Fighting Illini to 56 points, the NU stymied the Michigan offense as well, giving up 54 to the Wolverines in regulation.

The defense could not stop Michigan from mounting a second half comeback, as the Cats blew a 10-point lead early in the second frame.

“It was very similar to the Illinois game,” Crawford said. “We just have to make plays down the stretch.”

“We had a couple of those droughts again,” Carmody added. “We had a great start to the game. We didn’t take advantage as much as we could have.”

Despite all the things that went wrong for NU against Michigan, the Cats were two missed free throws away from upsetting the No. 13 team in the nation on its home court, a point that Carmody said comes down to execution on the finer points of the game.

“We just have to get better at the little things,” Carmody said. “Every play matters. Every foul shot matters. We tell them at the beginning of the year that they’ll be in a lot of close games.”

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