Men’s Basketball: Northwestern holds off Minnesota, 64-53, as Shurna makes school history

Dan Ryan

To senior forward John Shurna, a 3-pointer with 10 minutes and 48 seconds left in Northwestern’s game against Minnesota simply gave the Wildcats a 10-point cushion in a crucial conference victory and helped stem a late Golden Gophers run.

Everyone else in attendance at Welsh-Ryan Arena saw it much differently.

Shurna broke Billy McKinney’s all-time scoring record with his shot, giving him 1,902 career points, and helped carry NU to a 64-53 win over Minnesota.

“John was out there after the game, answering a lot of questions about his scoring and all,” coach Bill Carmody said. “He said the important thing was we got a win. That’s the kind of kid he is.”

After failing to record a bucket until the 14-minute-and-14-second mark against the Golden Gophers on Jan. 22, the Cats wasted no time getting on the board Saturday, recording the game’s first 5 points and getting out to an 11-6 lead.

Shurna said the opening minutes helped the team get into a rhythm.

“It was nice that we made a shot before the 12-minute mark,” Shurna said. “But we just had energy.”

Minnesota closed the gap after NU’s early run, eventually going up by one midway through the first. Led largely by the strong play of freshman guard Dave Sobolewski, who finished with a game-high 22 points, the Cats managed to build a lead as large as 8 points with eight minutes left in the first half despite Shurna not scoring a single point.

“Dave’s been great,” Shurna said. “His role continues to grow each game, which is huge for us. That’s definitely what you want out of a freshman point guard. He’s poised, and he’ll take and make big shots for us. He’ll come up with boards. He’s been huge for us and one of the main reasons we’ve been winning games.”

When Minnesota threatened the lead again, however, Shurna took over.

After stealing the ball from Minnesota’s Andre Hollins, Shurna ran uncontested to the rim and dunked, sending the crowd into a frenzy and the Cats up by 5. Less than one minute later, the senior forward nailed a 3.

Shurna scored the final 12 points of the half for the Cats, giving them an 8-point advantage at the break.

“It’s nice to have a layup, to see the ball go in the basket,” Shurna said. “But I wasn’t really focused on trying to score points. I think everyone was playing well. Dave was hitting shots, (junior forward) Drew (Crawford) was hitting shots, and we got key contributions from everyone.”

With Sobolewski and Shurna rolling in the second half, Minnesota never got closer than seven points.

The win took a backseat to Shurna’s accomplishment, however.

During the media timeout following his record-breaking shot, the NU student section brought out huge cardboard cutouts of Shurna’s face and number as the crowd chanted “John-ny Shur-na.”

“The crowd went nuts as he achieved that awesome honor like they should have,” Sobolewski said. “He’s worked really hard for four years to get to that point. That got us all really excited, and then we pushed through to the end.”

His coach’s reaction, however, was more subdued.

“I just gave him a high-five,” Carmody said.

With four games now remaining on the schedule for the Cats, whose NCAA Tournament hopes are on the bubble, Saturday’s win provided a crucial resume builder and moved the team a game closer to the magic nine win mark in-conference. A loss would have left NU likely needing a win against powerhouse Ohio State to advance to the Big Dance.

“People asked me if this was a must-win for us leading up to the game,” Carmody said. “I didn’t really think so, but it was close to a must-win. We got it.”

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