Crawford, ‘Cats Explode Out Of Gate; Rout Texas Southern 79-49
That was fun. For the second straight year, Northwestern opened its season against Texas Southern. For the second straight year, we won by 30 points and learned just a little bit about what may come this season. It was fun to acclimate to so many new players with so many different dimensions. The two biggest things missing from this year’s team – John Shurna and a 1-3-1 zone defense, both seemed to disappear over the course of the game. BTN play-by-play man kept harping on the resemblance of freshman swingman Kale Abrahamson, whose shot even resembles Shurna’s. Abrahamson book-ended Crawford’s stellar first half, with a bombs away second half that included several 23-to-25 foot three pointers and you got the sense Abrahamson will blossom in to that prototypical Carmody thin big man who will kill you from the outside. The comparison that Eric Collins belabored will be a season-long theme as Teddy Greenstein took this angle in his postgame report which just went live. You’ve got to love Kale’s response to the Shurna comparisons, which in and of itself was Shurna-like in its “aw shucks” nature – check it out here.
This one was over before it ever got started as the opening tip was a thing of beauty as Crawford hit one of his patented fade away runners on a designed give-and-go off the jump ball. From there, Crawford just lit up Texas Southern and scored 20 points on a perfect 8/8 FG shooting. Despite Sanjay Lumpkin sitting out this week due to mono, Northwestern exhibited its entire roster in big chunks and several guys stepped up to give you a glimpse of what this team will be like. But, this night belonged to Crawford, who had an entire half where he played possessed, almost as if it was a statement from a senior saying “trust me, I’ve got this”. It was awesome to see and made you wonder, literally, how long he could keep it going. One of the few knocks on Drew in the past was his streakiness – he’d light up teams unlike anyone else in the B1G for a 5-minute stretch and then, just as quickly as he did it, would disappear for stretches. Drew went 0/4 to start the second half, but he got pulled, wisely, early in this laugher. NU raced to a 43-14 halftime lead, holding an opposing team to the lowest first half total since UC Riverside had the same tiny output in December of 2008.
Personally, I think the play of Alex Olah symbolized this team. The starting 6-11 freshman center was a presence in the paint, crashed the boards and did some great things. Yet, his lack of a back to the basket power baseline drop step showed the need for a lot of work to get to the next level, which felt like more of a realistic evolution than a pipe dream. Olah matured within his very first game, and at one point he looked like Kevin Rankin, not figureatively, but literally, and then he power dunked a breakaway and I realized the difference (sorry, Kev!). Alex finished with 7 pts, 7 rebs on 3/5 shooting and you can just tell that Olah will be a fixture on this team for years to come and by his upperclass years will provide that missing element we’ve longed for in the low post. His three in the second half brought down the house, second only to Kale Abrahamson’s 25-foot bomb.
David Sobolewski didn’t score much, but man is he a presence on the floor. He really played unselfishly and was a beast on the boards, was so unselfish with the dishes and time after time picked up the hustle plays and drew offensive fouls. Sobo’s stat line – 3 pts, 7 reb, 9 assts, 2 steals – how ’bout them apples? I love what Tre Demps brings to the table in terms of athleticism and Cobb-like shot creation. I also get the sense that Sobo and Demps have good chemistry and I can only imagine the depth on this team had Cobb not gotten suspended.
A lot of attention was paid to Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire, who showed flashes of a lot of positive play on offense around the interior. However, Swopshire seemed to be forcing things, taking three uncharacteristic three point shots that seemed out of the flow. Swopshire ended up with 9 pts on 4/10 shooting and seemed to find his comfort zone with the offense midway through the first half.
Reggie Hearn also started slow on offense and looked to change his shot at times, but found his rhythm and like Sobo, got in to his groove by crashing the boards and disrupting the Texas Southern offense by getting his arms in passing lanes. Hearn, a fixture atop the 1-3-1 zone in years past, much like Jeremy Nash, seemed to be searching for his identity in this newfound man-to-man world. Hearn finished with 9 pts, 7 reb, 3 assists, 1 steal – a typical solid balanced stat line from the fan favorite.
Mike Turner showed flashes of positive and also some growing pains in only nine minutes of play. Turner seemed to get stuck in tweener land on offense a few times, but he hit a sweet jumper and had a couple of tough calls go against him. Alex Marcotullio chipped in five points in limited minutes.
Overall, a very promising win against a very inferior team. I’m pretty excited to see how quickly different combos gel in the next week as Northwestern goes from the last B1G to play to playing every other day for the next week. Nikola Cerina was a DNP and I haven’t read why as of yet – I was pumped to see him play. This was a walk-on’s dream game and James Montgomery took advantage of his significant minutes and got in the scoring column, while Chier Ajou is a major work in progress, but you can tell will do what it takes to get better and over time could really help eat some minutes and provide a defensive presence.
The ‘Cats shot 50% for the game on 29/58 shooting and an even more impressive 44% from 3-point range where they lived up to their past ways by draining 11 threes on 25 attempts. Meanwhile, the overmatched Mike Davis-coached team was held to 29% shooting for the game and a atrocious 19% from 3-point range. The ‘Cats return to action Thursday night when they host Mississippi Valley State, an NCAA Tourney team last season, that lost by 40 to Cincinnati tonight. The ‘Cats play again Sunday at 2pm at Welsh-Ryan against Farleigh Dickinson and then finalize a homestand on Tuesday night against Delaware State. NU hopes to be 4-0 when they finally start taking on more challenging tests starting with TCU in the South Padre Classic on November 23 and Maryland, Butler, a road tilt at #16 Baylor and Stanford all lie out there in the near future. For tonight, let’s enjoy this win and see what kind of lineups Coach Carmody experiments with on Thursday night.
Curious to get everyone else’s thoughts on the ‘Cats first win of the year. NU is now one of 10 B1G teams without a loss, but one of the two teams with a loss really made a statement for the conference tonight as Sparty and Keith Appling knocked off #7 Kansas down in Atlanta.