Saturday night was a special one for John Shurna.
Special in that his Northwestern Wildcats defeated Minnesota in what was billed as a must-win; special in that NU is that much closer to reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time; special in that he grabbed his own piece of history in breaking the Cats’ all-time career scoring record.
It was a special night for everyone else at Welsh-Ryan Arena, too — for everyone who watched him go from a lightly-recruited freshman forward with an awkward shot to the Big Ten’s active scoring leader and NU’s all-time leading scorer four years later, and still with an awkward shot.
It was a special night for his coach, Bill Carmody, who grabbed Shurna out of Glenbard West High School four years ago, and gave his senior leader a quiet, yet heart-felt congratulations after the history-making three-pointer.
“I just gave him a high five,” Carmody said. “We have a pretty good relationship. He knows how I feel.”
It was even a special night for former Wildcats star Billy McKinney, who set the old scoring record in 1977. He spoke with Shurna Saturday morning to offer support.
“He said ‘just go out there and have fun,’” Shurna said of McKinney. “He was really nice to me.”
But Shurna didn’t let Saturday’s game be about him. In fact, he took advice from McKinney, who told him to “just go out there and win.” Win he did, and for him, that’s all that mattered.
“Obviously it’s an honor, but it’s more important that we got to defend our home court tonight against a good Minnesota team,” he said.
It was a humble response to the question everyone knew was coming, but it was genuine, and Carmody didn’t expect anything less.
“There’s a lot of pressure on a guy to get a scoring record,” he said. “He’s a quiet, humble kind of guy. He cares about his teammates. I’m really happy for him.”
Though Shurna’s words were cliché, they couldn’t have been any truer. No matter how the season ends, he will go down as one of the best players in NU history. However, he has a chance to cement that legacy as the leader of the program’s first ever NCAA Tournament.
In that respect, the pressure is still on. This game was billed as a tournament game for both teams. Northwestern — especially Shurna — rose to the challenge, Minnesota didn’t.
“I hope they felt pressure, that’s what the game is about,” Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said of his players. “Great players want more pressure. Good players want that challenge; they seek it and they embrace it.
Shurna rose to the occasion on Saturday. But with four games left and NU likely needing at three wins, that script will have to continue as the Cats head into March.
“When John stood out there after the game (and people were) asking all these questions about the scoring record said he said the most important thing was we got a win,” Carmody said.
Shurna knows he has to keep this win in perspective. He knows that a loss Tuesday against Michigan could put a “what-if” on his career, and that’s why he refused to dwell on the scoring record too much Saturday night.
“Looking back on my career when I’m older, I’ll be telling people I played with the all-time leading scorer here,” freshman point guard Dave Sobolewski said.
With that piece of Northwestern history already in hand, Shurna is looking to rewrite another part of his school’s history book — a new chapter that would lead to a special season, not just a special night.