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.

  • Jbonz

    Great game! I almost forgot about the loss to Michigan. Almost.

    • Hah! Hardly. Although, hoops does help bridge the week long pain to get us to Saturday. I’m psyched and would love nothing more than a thumping, not just a win, but a 20-point variety win over MSU. Can’t believe we’re underdogs.

    • cebpd

      Don’t worry. Only 4 more days until we blow a double digit lead at Michigan State.

  • cebpd

    Carmody sure didn’t mind continually trying to score. I don’t think anyone is gonna criticize Carmody for winning by 30 or 50.

    Maybe Fitz should realize that winning by 50 or winning by 1 doesn’t matter. He should ALWAYS be trying to run up the score, regardless. And maybe if they had that attitude, it would be reflected on our team and we could truly crush some teams not just beat them by 10.

  • Db

    I agree with ltp that it is fun watching all these new players. Coming into the season I obviously like that we have a full bench of scholarship players and size which presumably means depth. My worry is that we have one proven scorer and will need 2-3 more to step up regularly and show they can put the ball in the basket.

    First, this season starts, continues and ends with Crawford. A guy with his athleticism, pedigree, experience and 24 foot range cannot score 15-20 points a game. He has to be an animal and hit 25 regularly, and at times carry them with 30+. That might sound like a lot but really is it ridiculous? What 2/3s in the league can lock down on him? Shurna did it with limited ability to get his own shot, and they made him bang with 5s all night. With Hearn and swopshire on the floor, Crawford will never have to guard anyone that demanding if they dont want him to. Which is also good because he is kind of a turnstile on the perimeter.

    Most importantly he needs to take over games late. Great players can dominate and win college basketball games. Not sure if anyone has noticed but we have had trouble closing teams out in recent years, partly due to Shurna having a tough time getting his own shot. Drew should not have that problem, he needs to want it and do it night in and night out. I’ll get to my take on the other players in the next post, but the success of this team ironically will be a derivative of really their only known commodity.

  • Db

    On the other guys:

    Swopshire – nice having a rotation / swing guy with real size. They kept saying on tv that he cant shoot 3s well. That will be an issue given the looks he will get in his offense. Tough for him to pass those up, but if he cant shoot them he needs to be disciplined like ltp mentioned. It will take time but I think he’ll find his groove / niche.

    Sobo – he had a nice swagger last night. I get the floor game he played, but in my opinion this team played 2 ways last year, and they were a completely different squad in the games he got to the rim and scored or dished. If he is a perimeter distributor someone else is going to need to break down defenses. Hopefully though he can get back in the paint now that we have guys that can finish.

    Demps – I think this guy is for real. At first I thought he was too small as a shooting guard, but he can put the ball in the basket and certainly isn’t afraid to try. They are going to need that attitude and creativity as I do think this team will have a tough time scoring points at times. I also think he could eat into sobo’s minutes if they don’t get good production out of sobo. He really seems to be a dynamic player.

    Olah – certainly nice to have a warm body in the middle. It is going to take time with him and there will be frustrating nights. I actually thought he had awful position last night defensively and just kind of reached over people to make up for it at times. The swinging arm blocks won’t work against real size/ players either. But the net of it is we have a real guy middle finally and I agree he will be a fixture for years.

    Kale – I think last night is what he is. Hopefully he can hold his own on defense so he can stay on he floor. Again we need guys that will put the ball in the basket. If he averages 10 points a game we’ll be a very good team.

    Ajou (sp?) – well that didn’t take long, with carmody pulling his redshirt in game 1. Guess we are all in this year. I actually thought he was a mile ahead of olah defensively. You can definitely get away with him playing 5-7 mins a game and guarding the rim against big teams. He doesnt look any more raw than other raw big guys – he might turn out to be a big deal some day. I hope him playing though isn’t a commentary on Cerina and whatever is going on there.

    Marco – what’s up with his minutes? He looked sharp but he was playing garbage time. Is he still hurt? And if so why is he out there at all? That was weird – hope he is ok and gets more run. Would be interesting if these other guys are just outplaying him in practice.

    Turner – he’s been the first guy off the bench both games so I guess he will play. He would seem like a back up to swopshire but I think they had him coming in for olah. Interesting to see how he develops and how he looks against real competition.

    Hearn – he’ll be steady, hope he stays aggressive and commits to being lock down on defense. Very important if they are going man and want to save Crawford for offense and from fouls. Again if he can regularly get 10 points a game it will relieve a lot of pressure off Crawford.

    • TB

      Re: Olah’s defense…it looked to me like Davis’s gameplan was to pull him away from the rim. The guy he was guarding was the one most often setting ball screens, usually out beyond the three-point line. Clearly Olah had been instructed to hedge those, so he was often 20+ feet out a lot of the time. I was actually impressed by his defensive fundamentals in that regard. Now, against better competition, it’ll be interesting to see if he can get back to the rim/his man fast enough. If not, the guards are going to have to start going over those ball screens, instead of under, which is probably not optimal.

      Turner was definitely the backup center. At least he looks like he has put on some bulk.

      Was wondering what the deal was with Cerina. He was not on the bench, didn’t see him at all. Cobb and Lumpkin were at least hanging around.

    • Hold off on declaring Ajou’s redshirt pulled. I seem to recall that playing in a few early games doesn’t count enough to constitute a lost redshirt. Am I wrong?

      • rararawrgocats

        From everything I’ve read, you can only redshirt someone after playing if he has a medical condition. It does sound like some coaches get creative with these medical conditions, however (found this last night when I was wondering the same thing):

        Either way, this quote from Carmody in the Greenstein’s Trib article leads me to believe we’ll be seeing plenty more of Ajou this year:

        “I think he will help us,” Carmody said of Ajou. “We just have to get him in playing shape so he can go more than four minutes at a time.”

  • Jimgocats93

    Olah hits a three! When the center in this offense hits an occasional three from the top of the key look out, Baby! Haven’t seen that since Aaron Jennings. Difference is now there is talent like never before.


  • ejsteeler

    I don’t understand the purpose of beating up on HBCUs and in-state weaklings – it will never benefit our RPI and it doesn’t help to make us a tougher team come Big Ten play. Instead of playing Texas Southern, why not play UTEP? Instead of Delaware St, how about Rhode Island? We should be playing teams from major conferences that we can beat and whose schedules will benefit ours. I like the TCU matchup, and of course, Md, Baylor and Stanford will help, but why not try some drastic scheduling to help break the streak?

  • Taylor C.

    Last year we played Texas Pan-American(UTPA) in the opener, not Texas Southern.