Men’s Basketball: Barrage of threes spurs Wildcats past Cornhuskers

Rohan Nadkarni

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Without a true center in the starting lineup, it was obvious that Northwestern (13-8, 3-6 Big Ten) would rely on outside shooting to win Thursday night. But no one told the Nebraska defense.

The result was a night filled with a barrage of three pointers and shoddy three-point defense from both teams.

The Wildcats took the Cornhuskers (11-10, 3-7) to task in the first half, hitting 10 of their 21 threes. The Cats shot 47.6 percent from long range in the opening stanza, compared to only 33 percent from inside the arc.

With all the success from outside, NU stuck to the perimeter, shooting 21 threes compared to only nine two-point field goals in the game’s first 20 minutes.

The shots only started getting closer to the hoop much later in the half. Twelve of the Cats’ first 13 attempts were from downtown, and they didn’t make a two-point field goal until a layup from senior forward John Shurna on NU’s 14th shot attempt.

“In the first half we were taking a lot of threes,” coach Bill Carmody said. “We knew that they would play off guys. When you’re getting open 20-footers at this level, you have to make it, and we did.”

Shurna led the way with three hits from downtown in the first half, and junior forward Drew Crawford and guards Dave Sobolewski and Alex Marcotullio followed suit with two each.

Shurna shot an astounding 60 percent from long range in the first period, hitting shots from any spot behind the three-point line.

Crawford, who struggled on a couple drives to the hoop, was lights out from his favorite spot on the wing. The Naperville, Ill.-native was unfazed even with a man in his face.

“I was just trying to take what the defense gave me, shots that we get in our offense,” Crawford said. “Sometimes I guess shots that I take might look awkward, but they’re comfortable shots for me.”

The junior forward finished the game with four three-pointers and 21 points overall.

“I didn’t think Drew took any bad shots tonight,” Carmody said. “Even on some of those pull-ups, I thought he got space on them. I thought tonight they were all good shots.”

Crawford frequently pulled up from three after receiving a screen. The Huskers’ inability to get through the screens drew the ire of their coach, Doc Sadler.

“We got caught underneath (the screens),” Sadler said. “We wanted to chase them.”

Though vulnerable from behind the arc, the Huskers’ defense did keep NU from getting any easy layups at the rim in half-court sets.

“We did a great job from the backside coming in there and taking away (the backdoor cuts),” Sadler said. “But we did not guard the ball screens correctly. And give them credit, they definitely attacked it.”

The Cats hit as many three-point shots as Nebraska had field goals in the first half, resulting in a 41-26 lead going into halftime. The Cornhuskers could only muster four threes, but their fortune changed quickly in the second half.

After halftime, Nebraska lit up NU in the same manner the Cats did to them in the first half. The Cornhuskers hit seven of their 13 threes, compared to 4-of-10 shooting for NU.

Unlike the Cats, Nebraska carried their strong shooting close to the basket as well, shooting 62.1 percent in the second half including 11-of-16 from inside the arc.

Nebraska’s nearly 54 percent three-point shooting after halftime brought them to within two points of NU’s one-time 15-point lead before the Cats pulled away late.

Overall, the two teams combined for 25 three-pointers on 57 attempts. Despite the Cornhuskers’ second half surge, the Cats’ outstanding first half gave them just enough cushion to win the game.