Dec. 22, 2009
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EVANSTON, Ill. -- Sophomore forward John Shurna rang up a career-best 29 points on 12-of-16 shooting to carry Northwestern to a 74-54 victory over Central Connecticut State Tuesday at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Shurna's fourth 20-point performance of the season, coupled with 15 points by freshman Drew Crawford, helped NU conclude the primary portion of its nonconference schedule with a 10-1 record.
Wildcat floor general Michael Thompson was typically efficient in the victory for Northwestern, finishing with 14 points, seven assists, four steals and zero turnovers in directing the NU offense. It marks the third time this season that the junior point guard has not committed a turnover in a game while playing more than 35 minutes.
Northwestern took a 12-point lead into halftime after Shurna, Thompson and Crawford combined to score 32 of the Wildcats' 34 first-half points. Thompson scored NU's first two baskets, canning a 3-pointer after converting an old-fashioned three-point play on a driving layup to open Northwestern's scoring.
After a quiet first 12 minutes, Shurna regained his role as one of the focal points of Northwestern's offense, scoring 11 consecutive points for the 'Cats. He got things started with a layup and a face-up jumper on back-to-back possessions and later drilled a 3-pointer to make it 28-19 NU with 3:23 left in the half.
After Shurna again hit a jump shot out of the post, Crawford closed NU's first-half scoring with a pair of free throws to give him nine points at the break.
The two squads traded baskets in the early going of the second half until Shurna again began to assert himself on offense, backing down his low-post defender for an easy lay-in. He also scored on NU's next trip down the floor off a perfect backdoor feed from Crawford at the 14:21 mark of the half.
The Blue Devils answered a Jeremy Nash layup with a 3-pointer of their own, but the 'Cats kept the pressure on with a fast-break finish by Crawford after a steal and dish by Thompson. Two free throws by Luka Mirkovic and another layup by Thompson ahead of the pack gave NU a commanding 55-35 advantage with 11:40 to play, completing a 10-3 run.
Central Connecticut (3-6) began making a late run with under four minutes to play, cutting its deficit to 11 at 65-54. But Shurna dispelled thoughts of a comeback with a layup, 3-pointer and two-handed breakaway jam on consecutive Northwestern possessions to push the lead back to 72-54. He capped off his career evening with a backdoor layup off a pass from Thompson to account for the final margin of victory. NU is now 6-0 all-time against opponents from the Northeast Conference.
Shurna's 29 points topped his previous best of 25 set in Northwestern's win over Notre Dame earlier this year.
Northwestern heads into Big Ten play riding a nine-game winning streak when they face Illinois at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 30, in Champaign.