Men’s Basketball: Michael Thompson tells John Shurna to enjoy his senior year

Dan Ryan

If Northwestern (14-8, 4-6) intends to fully resuscitate its NCAA Tournament hopes, it’s safe to chalk up Thursday’s game against Iowa as a “must-win” for the Wildcats.

Coming off a solid win against new conference foe Nebraska and an upset road victory over Illinois, NU continues with the second half of its Big Ten schedule with momentum but also delicate chances of dancing come March.

“We’ve had two big wins, one at home and one on the road,” senior forward John Shurna said. “But you can’t really look back. When we had those tough losses, we weren’t really looking back too much.”

In the second half against Illinois, Shurna demanded the ball in clutch situations and went off for 17 points. One thing has become clear in the past week: the team will go as far as its soft-spoken senior leader will take it.

Of course, he would just as soon deny it.

“I think that’s just a credit to my teammates putting me in positions to score,” Shurna said. “It’s a better offense. There’s different places for everyone to score. My teammates have just done a really good job of finding me.”

Last year, guard Michael “Juice” Thompson led the Cats on a string of late-season victories, clinching two NIT Tournament wins, including an upset of No. 1 seed Boston College, before finally succumbing to Washington State. Thompson visited the team two weeks ago and discussed being a senior leader with Shurna.

“Juice and I talked,” Shurna said. “We just kind of reflected a little on this year. He gave me advice. Had some laughs, too. It was just good to see him and good to talk to him because he’s been through this before.”

“He just said to enjoy it,” Shurna added. “You only get to do this once, and put in a lot of hard work in every season and especially your senior season so you can go out and do well.”

Shurna’s next opportunity to lead comes against Iowa (13-11, 5-6), a team coming off back-to-back home wins and trying to claw back to a .500 conference record.

“It’s a very good team,” coach Bill Carmody said. “They have good personnel. They play hard. They have a lot of different guys that can hurt you. They have a lot of Reggie (Hearn)’s out there.”

Despite a mediocre conference record, the Hawkeyes are third in the Big Ten in scoring offense and, more importantly for the Cats, first in the conference in steals, an area where the Cats have had struggles in the past.

“Every game is huge in the Big Ten,” Hearn said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re facing. We think we got a little momentum now, finally getting a road win after having a lot of trouble on the road this year.”

With upcoming games against Purdue, Indiana and Minnesota, the Cats can ill afford many losses, especially at home. Hearn was quick to point out that even though NU has momentum, they cannot get complacent.

“To get where we want to be, we can’t stop at four wins,” Hearn said. “You have to keep going, you have to keep winning. That is the Big Ten.”

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