As I returned to the TD Arena for round two of the Charleston Classic, I packed my bag with pen, paper, and a copy of the Journalist's Code of Ethics, planning to present a strictly conventional account of the day's basketball action. I told myself I was going by the books this time, no questions asked. I decided to leave my sarcastic wit, fervent attention to detail, and – most importantly – my intelligence at home. Fear not, concerned fathers, I'm as sober as a saint, and the virgin ears of your wives and daughters are in no danger.
Friday's first game in the winner's bracket featured the Tulsa Golden Hurricane, who easily handled Western Kentucky in yesterday's inaugural match, and the Northwestern Wildcats, coming off of a hard-fought victory against LSU in their first contest. If Tulsa wanted to compete, they'd have to focus on stopping Northwestern's senior forward John Shurna, who dropped a career-high 37 points on Thursday. For Northwestern, their main priority on defense would be stopping Tulsa's big men, who throttled Western Kentucky in the post.
Early on, I noticed that the West Ashley High School marching band, yesterday's source of soulful Kanye West renditions, was in attendance again. I overheard their director preaching to his flock of musically talented adolescents. "Wake up!" he bellowed. "This is a basketball game, not a sleepover!" And so, with this reminder, my good intentions to remain strait-laced were shattered. Right around this time, I took notice to the fact that John Shurna, yesterday's hero for the Wildcats, plays with a troubled look on his face, almost like he is struggling with a bowel movement.
Shurna, who has a unique but effective shot, struggled in the first, remaining a zero on the score sheet until over midway through the half. The teams seemed to match up well, and the game was even with 8:00 until halftime. Tulsa pulled ahead at the seven-minute mark on a three from Scottie Haralson, coming off of a nine-point performance yesterday. With Shurna held in check, Wildcat Junior Drew Crawford was lights out in the first, connecting on 3 of 4 from behind the arc, ending the half with 20 of Northwestern's 37 points. No Tulsa player reached double digits in the first, as their scoring came from a variety of sources, and the teams were all even at 37 going into the break.
During halftime, The Charleston Catholic School's band, made up of young children aged approximately 8-10, played an enchanting version of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" as proud mothers looked on. I found the performance to be quite ironic, and I applauded emphatically upon its completion. There was no cursing or yelling. See, I'm not so bad after all.
The second half got off to an exciting start. After Northwestern had jumped ahead by three, Hurricane sophomore Jordan Clarkson evened things up again with an impressive deep ball of his own as the shot clock expired. Shurna's three-point play on the following possession followed by his first deep ball of the day gave the Wildcats a 48-45 lead, and the impression that he may be heating up prompted Tulsa's head coach Doug Wojcik to take a time-out.
With nine minutes remaining, both sides were once again even at 54 in what appeared to have all the makings of a shoot-out. Tulsa's defense down the stretch forced the Wildcats into a few bad shots, keeping it close. Another three by Crawford brought his total to 31 points with 5:00 to go, putting Northwestern up 62-58.
Neither team scored for the next three minutes, until Tulsa's Jordan Clarkson connected on both free throws in a one-and-one to draw the Hurricane within two. A nice drive by Shurna in which he drew a foul, drained the lay-up, and completed the three-point play once again put the Wildcats up by five with under two minutes remaining. Tulsa came within two again on their next possession, but that was the closest they would get, as Northwestern held on, 69-65. With Shurna unable to match yesterday's accomplishments, finishing with 15 points, it was Crawford who took the reigns, finishing with a team-high 28. The Wildcats earned a spot in The Charleston Classic's championship game, set for Sunday at 8:00 p.m. Northwestern will face the winner of the St. Joseph's/Seton Hall game.