March 24, 2010
EVANSTON, Ill. -
A season that appeared to be lost before it even started, turned into one where expectations were exceeded and numerous historical standards were set for the Northwestern men's basketball team.
First and foremost on the Wildcats' list of accomplishments in 2009-10 was a school-record 20 wins. Following season-ending injuries suffered by seniors Kevin Coble (team's leading scorer and rebounder the past three seasons) and Jeff Ryan (versatile swingman who would have been the team's sixth man), many viewed NU's opportunities for success as fleeting. However, Northwestern stayed the course and bested the 1982-83 team's mark of 18 wins. It should be noted that Rich Falk's squad won 17 games on the court that season and was later awarded a forfeit victory over Wisconsin for the Badgers' use of ineligible player.
NU's 10 wins prior to the new year tied the 2006-07 team for the school record for most victories before Jan. 1, while the Wildcats' 37 combined wins over the last two seasons are the most in consecutive seasons in school history.
Northwestern continued to make Welsh-Ryan Arena a challenging place for opposing teams to play this season. After posting a school-best 13 home wins in 2008-09, the Wildcats bested that total by two, going 15-4 on their home court. Three of the losses came to teams who were ranked at the time and went on to compete in the NCAA tournament (Butler, Michigan State, Wisconsin).
Statistically, NU established a number of new team season marks. The squad's 2,351 points scored well outdistanced the previous best of 2,189 notched by the 1989-90 team. The school standard of 123 blocked shots in a season had stood since 1965-66, but this year's Wildcats bested that total by 10. Also, the team's 565 assists knocked the 1993-94 team's mark of 516 down to second place in school annals.
It's no secret that Northwestern likes to crank up 3-pointers, and the team did so at a record-setting rate this season. For the third consecutive season, NU set a new best for 3-pointers made, hitting 317 to obliterate the 255 last year's team connected on. The Wildcats' 887 attempts from beyond the arc were an amazing 216 more than the 2007-08 team tried.
One game in particular stands out as how much Northwestern likes to launch the trey. In a 90-65 home win over North Carolina A&T, NU set Big Ten records for 3-pointers made and attempted in a game as it went 20-for-47. The 20 makes are tied for the most by any team in the nation this season. NU matched the attempts record with 47 against Illinois Dec. 30. The 20 makes bested the previous conference mark of 18 set by Ohio State against LSU Jan. 15, 2005, while the attempt total topped Michigan's total of 42 against Florida Gulf Coast Dec. 22, 2008. The previous school records were 15 makes vs. Arkansas State Dec. 3, 2007 and 36 tries at Ohio State Feb. 1, 2003.
Fourty minutes wasn't always enough time to declare a winner in the Wildcats' games this season. Northwestern participated in three overtime contests in 2009-10, all of them coming against conference opponents. It's the first time NU had three Big Ten games go to overtime since the 1983-84 campaign. That particular team played four OT games overall, the most in school history.
Individually, Wildcats moved into the top spot on single-season record lists in a variety of categories, headlined by John Shurna. The sophomore forward put together one of the most impressive seasons in school history. His 619 points topped Evan Eschmeyer's total of 585 during his junior year of 1997-98. Shurna's 217 field goals bested Dale Kelly's previous standard of 209 which had stood for the last 40 years.
In conference play, Shurna notched a Big Ten-best 362 points. However, the Big Ten scoring title is determined by scoring average. Ohio State's Evan Turner appeared in 16 league games this season (Shurna played in all 18) and averaged 20.125 points per game. Shurna's scoring average came to 20.111, meaning if the baby-faced assassin had scored just one more point it would have boosted his average to 20.167 and made him NU's first Big Ten scoring champion since Ray Ragellis in 1950-51.
Junior point guard Michael Thompson continued his reputation as Northwestern's Energizer bunny this season. The durable Thompson played a grand total of 1,281 minutes in 2009-10, besting Jitim Young's 1,107 minutes played in 2003-04. In fact, two other Wildcats topped Young's previous record as Shurna played 1,238 minutes and Jeremy Nash played 1,180.
In the previously mentioned Dec. 13 victory over North Carolina A&T, Drew Crawford played a huge role in Northwestern's record-breaking totals. The freshman went 8-for-13 from 3-point range and scored a school freshman-record 35 points in the contest. Remarkably, Crawford posted the point total in just 25 minutes of action. The 35 points topped Billy McKinney's previous scoring high by an NU freshman of 30 against Illinois on Feb. 16, 1974. Crawford's point total is the second-highest by any Division I freshman this season and ranks as a tie with Purdue's Robbie Hummel as the most by any Big Ten player this season.
Needless to say, it was a season of numerous remarkable performances by the Wildcats that bodes well for a bright future.