EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) -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.
The Associated Press News Service
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