CHARLESTON, S.C. — Northwestern showed experience, depth and poise to earn itself a tournament title at the Charleston Classic. Does that mean the Wildcats are ready to reach a much more important tournament come March?
"It's November 20th. Come on," Wildcats coach Bill Carmody said when asked if these Wildcats (4-0) looked like the group that could end the school's 0-for-the-NCAA-tournament run.
Northwestern is the lone school from a BCS conference that hasn't played in the NCAAs. But if the Wildcats continue to play as they did this weekend at TD Arena, that's a distinction likely to end.
Drew Crawford had 27 points and John Shurna 19, the two upperclassmen making plenty of plays down the stretch after the Wildcats lost a 12-point lead in the second half. Crawford scored 72 points in Northwestern's three tournament games and was named the Charleston Classic MVP.
Crawford, a junior, is not worried about individual honors or ultimate goals, not when the season's just starting and the Wildcats are still a work in progress.
"We've got a few young guys, but we've got a few experienced guys," Crawford said. "Coach has confidence in us. We have confidence in our teammates."
All of that was well-placed against Seton Hall (3-1) and star Herb Pope, who had a career-high 32 points in the title game.
Northwestern had a 10-point lead at the half, but was in trouble right away as the Pirates turned up the pressure. Aaron Cosby, Pope and Fuquan Edwin had three straight 3s to start a 15-0 run by the Hall. When Edwin made a basket with 8:29 to go, the Pirates were up 57-54 and the large following that traveled from New Jersey filled TD Arena with shouts of celebration.
Shurna, a senior, quickly quieted things with a tying 3-pointer and began a stretch where the lead changed hands on six straight possessions. Seton Hall point guard Jordan Theodore had the last one with his 3 for a 67-65 lead with 4:18 to go. Shurna tied things with two foul shots and Crawford put the Wildcats up front for good, 69-67, on a jumper with 2:28 remaining. Crawford and Shurna each had four more points down the stretch to seal the win.
Carmody acknowledged that he counted on his team's experience to right the ship after losing its large lead. He said during one time out, "I really had nothing to say," because he knew his players understood the situation and would correct their mistakes.
Don't let Carmody fool you, though. "Coach always has a little something to say," Crawford said with a smile.
Crawford and Shurna were the Wildcats' steadying hands throughout a very tough tournament. Shurna went for a career-high 37 points and Crawford 17 in an 88-82 win over LSU of the Southeastern Conference on Thursday. The next day, it was Crawford with the hot hand with 28 points and Shurna had 15 points and made several key plays near the end in a 69-65 victory over Tulsa of Conference USA on Friday.
Then came Seton Hall of the Big East, all the types of teams the Wildcats might see in March — if Carmody wasn't so dead set against considering it.
"That's what we're all trying to do, just like everyone," Carmody said. "But we're working on ourselves as much as anyone."
That's what coach Kevin Willard wants his players to do, too. He was proud of their comeback, yet knew he had several young players who need more experience in end-of-game situations to pull out ones like this.
"They made some great plays," he said. "Shurna and Crawford are excellent players and those two guys made great plays down the stretch."