EVANSTON, Ill. -- Michael Thompson, the smallest player on the court, was a major force for a Northwestern team learning to survive without its star.
"I had to bring my teammates together and let them know we still had a lot of game left," said the 5-foot-10 Thompson, who scored 13 of his career-high 31 points in the final 5:04 Sunday as Northwestern finished with a 16-1 run and rallied to defeat Tennessee State 69-62."Even when we're down, we still have what it takes to pull out a game."Northwestern (2-1) is without Kevin Coble, a second-team All-Big Ten forward last year who will miss this season with a foot injury. Another senior leader, reserve forward Jeff Ryan, also is done for the season.Both players were hurt in the last two weeks. That put instant pressure on Thompson, a junior who averaged only 9.9 points last season."Even before Jeff and Kevin were injured, we told (Thompson) he's got to take 12 or 13 shots a game," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. "Sometimes it's hard for him to get a shot off, but tonight he was finding the open spot and knocking some big ones down."Thompson's previous career high was 24 points."I have the most experience now that Kevin and Jeff are out, and coach Carmody expects a lot out of me," he said. "I'm all for it. I just have to lead my team and try to come through for them."Northwestern trailed 61-53 before Thompson made a free throw and two 3-pointers. After Tennessee State's Josh Sain made one of three free throws, Thompson hit two more foul shots to tie it at 62-all.With 2:22 left, freshman Alex Marcotullio made a 3-pointer to put Northwestern ahead for good. Thompson capped the surge with two free throws and a layup.Sain scored 14 points and Wil Peters added 13 for Tennessee State (0-3), which was coming off a 28-point loss Friday to the same Northern Illinois team that had lost by 22 to Northwestern a week earlier.The Tigers were in position to pull off a huge upset Sunday but got rattled by Northwestern's full-court press down the stretch."From a mental toughness perspective, we aren't quite ready," first-year Tennessee State coach John Cooper said. "We've got a bunch of young kids who are learning how to play. We're starting one guy (Peters) who was a walk-on. Good teams find a way to win, and Northwestern is better than we are right now."Tennessee State trailed 32-21 before scoring the final 12 points of the first half, aided by six Northwestern turnovers. Peters made a 3-pointer and had two assists, capping the run by stealing the ball from Mike Capocci and feeding Darius Cox for a dunk.Northwestern led 39-35 early in the second half before Tennessee State hit four 3-pointers, including two by Jacquan Nobles, during a 14-3 run for a 49-42 lead.