Game Notes: Iowa at Northwestern
A visit to the new “Nawf’western” and the John Shurna Show.
by Bryan Crawford / @from_the_chi
My life is so random.
After the Bulls/Pacers game on Wednesday night, I wound up at bar not too far from the United Center having drinks with some guys whose names carry a lot of weight in basketball circles around this town. One of them was Tavares Hardy, assistant men’s basketball coach at Northwestern University. No disrespect to Head Coach Bill Carmody who’s an excellent Xs and Os guy, but the recent success of the Wildcat basketball program can be directly linked to Hardy and the guys he recruited to come and play there.
While we’d never met before, I knew who Hardy was from his playing days at Northwestern. As we sat there chopping it up and talking basketball, it didn’t take long for me to realize he was a real good dude. As we were all about to leave, I gave him my name and my SLAM affiliation and he gave me his card and invited me to come out to Northwestern’s final Big Ten home game against Iowa the next night.
There’s a huge buzz in Evanston right now surrounding the Wildcat basketball program this season and them possibly making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. I’ve been trying to get to a game for the longest but could never find the time, so I figured this was as good a time as any to go. Plus, Welsh-Ryan Arena is literally 10 minutes away from my house so why not?
I called Tavares at 4:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon and he told me he’d leave two tickets for me at the gate. So I grabbed JJ (my 4-year-old son) and off we went.
After going to so many NBA games, when I got to Welsh-Ryan, I was almost taken aback by the intimacy of a college basketball arena and how scaled back everything is. One of the coolest things about the arena is on the “home” side all of the seats from the floor to the balcony are the kind you would find in an NBA stadium. But on the away side, the seats are just your average, ordinary, run-of-the-mill wooden bleachers. I thought the concept of it was hilarious.
I went into the game knowing very little about the players on either team. In fact, the only two Northwestern players I knew anything about at all was injured F Kevin Coble and PG Michael “Juice” Thompson, a local product. For Iowa, I only knew about G Cully Payne who’d famously committed to DePaul when he was in the 8th grade and who was featured recently in SLAM.
But the star of the evening for Northwestern (18-10 overall, 7-9 Big Ten) was F John Shurna. This kid was on fire.
He hit 7 of his first 8 shots, including three straight 3-point baskets. In the interest of keeping it real, his shot isn’t picture perfect by any means. If the problem scouts have with Tim Tebow is his elongated delivery, then my problem with Shurna is his shot is just plain ugly. It takes him way too long to get it off, but when he does, it goes in. He just gets it done. I would find out later he’s the third leading scorer in the Big Ten behind Ohio State’s Evan Turner and Penn State’s Talor Battle and I was completely shocked.
Iowa had absolutely no answer for him as he torched them for 18 points in the first half. After missing his first shot, he hit his next seven, including three straight 3-point baskets.
For the Hawkeyes (9-19 overall, 3-12 Big Ten), they were out of the game early as they couldn’t get anything going offensively. Halfway through the first half, they found themselves down by 10 points. Less than four minutes later, they were down 20. There wasn’t a whole lot they could do as Northwestern shot 17-27 from the field (63 percent) while Iowa only made 6 shots as a team in the first half. JJ said to me after about 10 minutes into the game, “Daddy, the black team sucks. They can’t play.” A couple of people near us heard him say it and couldn’t contain their laughter.
After one, the Wildcats lead the Hawkeyes 39-19.
It was more of the same as Northwestern continued to put it on Iowa.
John Shurna continued his hot shooting and even showed a little bit of athleticism as well. Key words, “a little bit.” “Juice” Thompson threw him a lob on a nice backdoor play and as he went up to catch the ball and slam it home, he couldn’t quite get control of the rock and his dunk attempt bounced high off the rim. A foul was called as the ball went up in the air and then somehow fell straight back down into the hoop. Nice play. And one.
Shurna made the FT and the Wildcats found themselves up 25 points after that. Two minutes later though, Iowa would make a run, mostly on aggressive drives to the basket which got them to the FT line. Several minutes later, what was a 25 point lead was now down to 12 points and several Northwestern fans in my vicinity started getting real anxious and nervous.
With about 3 minutes to go in the game, a TV time out was called and the school honored ESPN and PTI’s own Mike Wilbon at half court who’s a Northwestern alum. I wasn’t expecting to see him there nor did I even notice he was in attendance, but there he was, all decked out in his NU purple and the fans gave him a rousing ovation.
After that timeout, Northwestern got things back in order as they closed out the Hawkeyes and won the game 74-57. John Shurna finished the game with 29 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks. He shot 10-14 from the field, including 4-6 from deep.
I started to leave with about a minute and a half left before the final buzzer. If you’ve ever gone to a basketball game with a 4-year-old, you know they can get pretty anxious and restless and the “Daddy, is the game almost over? Daddy, can we go home?” questions every two minutes starts to get pretty annoying after a while.
But before I left, I had to go over and speak to Mike Wilbon.
He was a really cool and really nice guy. I shook his hand and told him about my affiliation with SLAM and he said to me, “Oh, nice! Tell Scoop I said what’s up.”
I guess Scoop and SLAM will always be synonymous, but it made me wonder if he even knew he and Scoop were “co-workers” now.
Anyway, I told him I would since I do talk to Scoop every now and then and as I was walking away I said to him, “Tell Kornheiser I said keep his head up.” He just laughed and nodded his head.
Like I said, my life is so random.