EVANSTON-Coming off perhaps the worst offensive performance of his career, John Shurna need a big night against Michigan.
Boy, did he get it.
Just three days after shooting 2-for-10 and scoring just six points against Michigan State, Shurna scored 22 points in the first half and 24 overall to lead Northwestern to an easy 74-60 win over the defenseless -- often quite literally -- Wolverines.
The win was the third in four games for the Wildcats (12-5, 3-4 Big Ten).
Coach Bill Carmody said that it was good to see Shurna back to his old self after the bitter overtime defeat in East Lansing. But the coach was more impressed by Shurna's eight rebounds.
"He hasn't smiled for three days," kidded Carmody, who talked about the Wildcats' "horrible" practice on Monday. "He should be happy."
Even though Shurna was the star, the coach credited Drew Crawford, whose two three-pointers opened the scoring for NU, for igniting the Wildcat offense.
"I like the way we came out tonight, just blazing," said Carmody.
Shurna picked up where Crawford left off and carried the team for the rest of the half, proving in the first 20 minutes that the sprained ankle he's been battling the last three weeks wouldn't be hampering him on this night.
Shurna finished the first half with 22 points in 16 minutes, hitting 7 of 11 field goals and 4 of 6 three-pointers to stake the Wildcats to a 44-31 halftime lead that proved insurmountable.
He said that he got quite a few of his open looks in transition.
"Coach made an emphasis to push the ball up the court, and that's how I got some of those threes," he said.
In one torrid stretch, the 6-foot-8 junior tallied 12 consecutive Northwestern points in less than three minutes, single-handedly pushing a 25-20 lead to a 37-24 bulge with 4:53 left. He showed great equality in his scoring, hitting two triples, two jumpers and two free throws.
The Wildcat offense, knowing it had a hot hand, consisted primarily of waiting for Shurna to get open on the perimeter and then feeding him the ball. On one possession, Michael Thompson drove the lane and then kicked it out to an open Mike Capocci on the right wing. Cappocci fired it to Alex Marcotullio at the top of the key, who, in turn, swung it to an open Shurna on the left wing.
Shurna canned the three-pointer before anyone in blue could get close to him.
Shurna's blistering pace slowed in the second half as the Wildcats' lead ballooned to as many as 20 and Michigan (11-8, 1-5) never narrowed the lead to less than 12 points the rest of the way. Shurna attempted just three field goals, hitting one, while his supporting cast got into the act and did the scoring damage.
Carmody lauded the efforts of Luka Mirkovic (13 points, 8 rebounds) and Davide Curletti (7 points, 5 rebounds) for providing the Wildcats with an inside presence that balanced their outside scoring.
Thompson wound up with 10 points and Crawford, who was limited to just 18 minutes because of foul trouble, had 8.