Someone led Northwestern in scoring with 28 points on Friday. And it was not John Shurna. In fact, Shurna barely scored half that total.
To anyone who follows Northwestern, or the Big Ten in general, you would assume that if Shurna put up only 15 points, the Wildcats would not win.
That was not the case on Friday in Charleston, as Drew Crawford led Northwestern to a four-point win over Tulsa. The win puts the Wildcats in the Charleston Classic Final against Seton Hall on Sunday.
Crawford’s 28—his highest scoring game since a 35-point effort against North Carolina A&T in 2009—came a day after Shurna led Northwestern with 37 in a win over LSU. He took over the game for the Wildcats in the middle of the first half and led the team into the half scoring 20 of the team’s 37 points.
Crawford scored in numerous ways—he attacked the basket both in the half court and in transition, and then using that attacking ability against Tulsa defenders to create space and knock down three-point shots. He made 3-of-4 threes in the first half and 5-of-8 for the game.
He also made some plays around the basket as well, grabbing four rebounds and flying into the paint to grab a deflected pass late in the first half, leading to a Wildcat basket.
Now a junior, Crawford seems to have nicely filled the role as the team’s second fiddle to Shurna. After the departure of Michael Thompson, the team’s second leading scorer a year ago, Crawford was expected to step in and give Bill Carmody a consistent second scoring option. In three games so far, Crawford has gradually increased his offensive production, scoring 11, then 17, then 28. He also has improved dramatically on his three-point shooting thus far, making 50 percent (8-of-16) of his outside shots after shooting just under 33 percent last season.
At 6’5”, Crawford provides a multidimensional scoring ability that will be a huge asset in Carmody’s motion offense. Like Shurna, he has the ability to shoot over smaller defenders. If he hits shots and draws the attention of a forward on D, then Crawford has the quickness and controlled aggressiveness to take the ball to the basket and get points that way.
In an offense where most players rely on motion and passing to get good scoring looks, Crawford’s ability to create his own scoring opportunities is a big plus for Northwestern. If defenses, especially those in the Big Ten, commit to containing Shurna, having Crawford there to step up and get points could easily make the difference in at least a few games this season.
One area where Crawford will need to improve is passing, where he is averaging just one assist per game thus far. He will need to keep an eye out for an open shooter as defenses close on him when he goes to the bucket. However, given his consistent improvement throughout his time in Evanston, expect him to improve his passing as the season goes on—especially as defenses key in on him more.
On Sunday against Seton Hall, Crawford will look to pick up where he left off Friday. It is a nice opportunity for Crawford and Northwestern to win an early-season tournament, and rack up three decent nonconference wins.
For a team that—you know, has never made the dance—these wins could be very valuable come February and March, when the Wildcats try to pitch their case to the NCAA selection committee.