EVANSTON-Northwestern is known as an academic institution, and the Wildcats certainly aced their first major test of the 2010-11 season on Tuesday night.
John Shurna scored a game-high 21 points and Drew Crawford 19 to lead Northwestern to a 91-71 rout of Georgia Tech.
The Wildcats (5-0) were clearly up to the challenge of this ACC/Big Ten Challenge game, opening up a 20-point first-half lead and never letting the beleaguered Yellow Jackets get closer than 16 the rest of the way.
Northwestern's offense was firing on all cylinders, hitting 65 percent of its shots from the floor and 63 percent from beyond the arc in one of the most dominating offensive performances in recent memory. The Wildcats' point total was 11 more than No. 9 Syracuse managed to put up against Georgia Tech (4-3) last Saturday night.
Coach Bill Carmody said that his team "shot the ball extremely well," and Georgia Tech boss Paul Hewitt agreed.
"It's one thing to be open for a three; it's another thing to knock down 10 out of 12," which is how many the Wildcats hit in the first half.
Georgia Tech jumped out to a 13-5 lead in the opening minutes, but it was all Northwestern after that, as the Wildcats' 1-3-1 zone stifled the Yellow Jackets offensively and their red-hot shooting enabled them to pull away.
You can't play a much better half than Northwestern did to open up its 55-37 halftime bulge.
The Wildcats hit 83 percent of their threes and were 22-of-29 from the floor overall in the opening stanza. Shurna and Crawford were both 3-of-3 from beyond the arc as the Wildcats were able to get any shot they wanted against a bewildered Georgia Tech defense.
Northwestern even outrebounded the Yellow Jackets 14-11 in the opening 20 minutes and 32-28 overall.
What kind of half was it for the Wildcats? In one sequence, Alex Marcotullio barely grazed the rim on a three-pointer -- his only miss in four attempts in the half -- but Crawford pulled down the rebound behind the basket and then flipped in a reverse layup off the glass.
The Wildcats' blistering scoring pace slowed down in the second half, as did their barrage of three-pointers. The Wildcats hit only 47 percent of their shots from the floor and 2-of-7 from beyond the three-point line. Northwestern, in fact, didn't hit a triple until Michael Thompson nailed one on the wing with nine minutes to go.
Still, Georgia Tech never came close to threatening. The Jackets tried to use a full-court press to disrupt the Wildcats' offense, but it wasn't very effective as the Wildcats had three ballhandlers in the game at virtually all times and were able to get into the lane against the Jackets' scrambling, extended defense.
Georgia Tech guard and native Chicagoan Iman Shumpert was impressed that the Wildcats continued to hit contested shots.
"It's pretty hard when you're in guys' faces and they're still knocking down shots," he said. "It's frustrating, but you've got to take your hat off to them."
Only Northwestern's woeful free-throw shooting kept the score as close as it was. The Wildcats hit just 17 of 30 free throws in the game and 16 of 28 in the second half.
Glen Rice led Georgia Tech with 16 points, while Shumpert pitched in with 11. Yellow Jacket Brian Oliver, coming off of a 32-point performance against Syracuse, was held to three points on 1-of-9 shooting.
Luka Mirkovic led Northwestern with eight rebounds and seven assists, both game-highs.