That all changed in rapid fashion when senior Alex Marcotullio banged in a three, sparking the Wildcats to a streak of their own. Northwestern outscored their opponents 17-3 to wrap up the half, with a mix of gritty defense and timely shot-making. For Marcotullio, who has dealt with back problems all season, it was a timely contribution, finishing with 10 points and three assists.
"I'm just trying to get in there and give the team a spark whenever I can," said Marcotullio. "I think we did a great job with our team defense, and we came up with a few loose balls that helped us get on the break and score easy buckets."
With a big non-conference victory on the line, Northwestern knew it couldn't afford to give up despite the deficit. The Wildcats have faced plenty of hurdles already this season, none bigger than Drew Crawford's season-ending injury. With a daunting comeback lying ahead, the remaining leadership held fast.
"Me, Reggie [Hearn] and Dave [Sobolewski] huddled everyone together and said we have to step up and play harder," said Marcotullio." I think those words of encouragement spread throughout the team, and we started coming up with those loose balls and scored easy buckets. I think it helped our offense flow better."
Though they would fall 70-68 in the end, the Wildcats kept it close the rest of the way, keyed by high-pressure defense. With a raucous Welsh-Ryan crowd behind them, Northwestern gave Stanford all it could handle, forcing 14 turnovers on the night. At the top of the 1-3-1 zone was Marcotullio, with three steals of his own.
"I'm just trying to take them out of their comfort zone," he said. "That's my job at the top, to get the start of their offense off balance and just create a little havoc up there."
Marcotullio's contributions go beyond the stat sheet. A respected teammate and leader, his wisdom and calming influence are essential for a young Northwestern team still working out some kinks. With leading scorer Hearn potentially set to miss time after injuring his ankle early in the second half, Marcotullio becomes more important both on and off the floor.
"I definitely look up to Alex, and the energy he brings," said redshirt freshman Tre Demps, who chipped in 12 points of his own. "[He's] a team guy, he's been trying to help me out when we're competing for minutes and I think it says a lot about his character. He's just been great to be around."
In midst of a difficult campaign, the Wildcats need Marcotullio at his best. If tonight was any indicator, they just might get it.
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