‘Cats Survive Near Crawford-less Night; 3-Headed Monster Saves ‘Cats in 81-68 Win Over MVSU

That was interesting. When Bill Carmody took the job he knew “there’d be nights like this”. However after 13 seasons in Evanston, you can tell the veteran basketball coach has little patience for a flat performance. Drew Crawford, plagued by foul trouble from the get-go, barely played (4 pts, 4 fouls) and for those wondering how NU would fare on a night when Drew was off, well, we got a partial answer.

Give the opponent credit. You could try and soften the seemingly cream puffery of the SWAC opponent by pointing to their NCAA Tournament appearance last year, but that would be disingenious considering 11 of the 12 members of that team are no longer on the team. Instead, this was a Delta Devils team that entered 0-2 fresh off a 42-point loss at Cincinnati on Tuesday night. But, tonight, Devon Usher had one of those proverbial “in the zone” nights and just owned ‘Cats defensive specialist, Reggie Hearn. At one point Usher was 11/12 including 8/9 from 3-point land draining bombs with Hearn in his face and creating points reminiscent of Cedric Neloms. Usher finished with an impressive 35 points on 12/18 shooting and really single-handedly kept MSVU in the game, thwarting every NU attempt to pull away.

The Delta Devils could never quite take the lead, but did tie it multiple times. Yet, it seemed to be one of those mental things where NU wouldn’t let them ever take the lead. Crawford rode the pine all night long and with the game really in doubt most of the night, we got a forced preview to see who Carmody trusts at this point. The rotation consisted of eight guys – the five starters (Sobolewski, Crawford, Hearn, Olah, Swopshire) plus Tre Demps, Alex Marcotullio and Mike Turner. The most mystifying personnel decisions included Kale Abrahamson only getting two minutes after having the second most impressive opening night and once again TCU transfer, Nikola Cerina who got his second DNP.  These two no-shows were particularly interesting based on the decided height and size advantage NU had, which would’ve been even more exaggerated with Cerina and Abrahamson in the lineup.

There were quite a few silver linings in this game. We’ll start with Jared Swopshire who really carried the ‘Cats in the first half. Swopshire really settled in and looked much better shooting the rock, especially from 3-point range. He was 5/6 from three and ended up with 22 points, 6 reb, 2 assists and did a ton of the little things right all night long. Reggie Hearn played like a senior leader and led the Wildcats with 23 points, consistently hitting clutch shots whenever MSVU got close. Hearn could do no right on defense, but to his credit, Usher was draining shots with Hearn’s hand in his face. The third head of the NU monster was David Sobolewski. He sat a good chunk of the first half, but man was he the unsung hero of this game. He mixed gutty rebounds with great floor leadership and some clutch assists, but it was his clutch shooting down the stretch that really seemed Juice Thompson-esque as he hit two momentum swinging threes and finished with 13 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds. Kudos Sobo, you were huge.

The officiating was absolutely horrendous.  Inconsistent calls, ticky tack no-calls on both teams and no calls on obvious fouls had both teams rightfully complaining all night long. It was one of the poorest officiating jobs I’ve seen in quite some time. Both teams shot around the 50% mark, but a troubling sign was the free throw shooting by NU, which was an unacceptable 58% going only 15/26.

Welsh-Ryan looked like a ghost town and there was no energy in the building. Students should be banned from any criticism of this program except for the 15 of them that showed up. We’re two games in to the season and the student section should be ashamed of itself. C’mon Wildside, step up!

I’d be remiss for not mentioning another solid output from freshman Alex Olah. He scored a modest 8 points and 2 rebounds (seemed like 6 or 7) in 22 minutes, but he was very good with his spacing and passing.  I’m really drawn to Olah and you can just see him improving each trip up the floor. When he steps in to the eventual demanding center begging for the ball and cranks up his offensive aggressiveness (along with the much needed drop step to attack the rim) he’s going to be a great one. You forget how young he is when you watch him. I also thought Mike Turner added some valuable minutes when Olah had to sit for foul trouble in the second half. Turner missed a couple of bunnies on offense, but he was great on defense and had a nose for the ball, coming up with a few clutch rebounds when the game was tight. Alex needs to get pulled aside and told to stop complaining after every single foul. I love his spark, but he continues to reach on defense and not move his feet. That being said, he was a calming senior presence down the stretch and not forcing things. He only had five points, but really contributed across the stat sheet.

Overall, the ‘Cats really have shown they’ve got the individual ability to score in a lot of ways, yet, as evidenced by tonight, they’ve got a long way to go with both chemistry and offensive flow, but also the need to be able to adapt on defense. They were inconsistent and at times, lazy on that end of the floor. Hands weren’t up in the passing lanes, guys were reaching and there was a general lack of awareness of where Usher was by guys not named Reggie Hearn.

The ‘Cats move to 2-0 and will be right back at it in another 36 hours when they host Farleigh Dickinson and you can bet Carmody will use this game as a teaching tool.  The program is at a point where it can beat mediocre to below average teams without having anything close to an “A” performance, but from the bigger picture, tonight exposed how far we’ve got to go to really step-up to the next level.

I really liked the improvement of Swopshire and think tonight could be a real confidence springboard for him. You sensed he’s stepping in to that senior leader role. Likewise, Reggie Hearn played like a champion and Sobo played like a senior. He’s really improved his shot from the perimeter and he has that Jittim/Juice-like swagger. Northwestern wins 81-68 and moves to 2-0.

  • Al

    A win is a win.

    • Leither

      Well, a win is a win, until we play a better team. Then, those will no longer be wins. It’s great to see budding talent developing through each game. If Sobolewski keeps up these great assist numbers, he’s on track to breaking a school record.

      • How is easy is it to love Sobo. Definition of unselfish PG…fortunately a constant theme under Carmody.

        • Leither

          Well, I remember watching him last season and seeing several selfish moments. I don’t know if it was playing under the Shurna shadow, but now that John is gone, Sobo is developing into a strong leader, almost a Jr. Juice!

        • Db

          It’s easy when he is aggressively attacking the defense and making shots. It’s not easy when he plays passive distributor. This team is completely different when he shows up vs when he doesn’t. If he plays like he did the last 10 mins last night this team will be fine. If he plays like he did the last 10 games last year demps and Marco need to take most of his minutes. They are a much better team when he plays well, hope he keeps after it.

  • MKEB1GCat

    LTP, I think you have it backwards. This program needs to show that its worth tredging out to Welsh-Ryan to watch them take on a swac school a week before thanksgiving (plenty of exams going on) before anyone can call the students out. When northwestern starts to show that its worth watching, makes a tourney appearance or starts playing in a non-glorified high school gym that isn’t 15 min off campus, go ahead and call them out. There’s only so many times you can say ‘but this is the year’ before that’s gonna stop drawing people.

    • I didn’t realize Bandwagonism was the protocol for students at their own school needing to be convinced to cheer on their fellow classmates.

      • CatAlum06

        Amen LTP!

      • MKEB1GCat

        It’s not bandwagonism to not want to watch a team that has continually let you down in the most heartbreaking ways possible play some nobody school. And if them being classmates is supposed to be the motivation then why can’t you apply that logic to all sports. How many people showed up to watch their fellow classmates play club ultimate frisbee or softball or field hockey.

        • Db

          it’s their right. But it’s also counterproductive to the prospects for success.

      • nsr019

        I really despise the label “bandwagoners.” Any rational human being is more likely to show up to watch an exciting, high-octane game than a listless one.

        I’ll make no excuses for why students didn’t show up to the game on Thursday, but it’s their prerogative. Cheering for the basketball team isn’t a job. It’s optional entertainment, and the buck stops with the athletic department and the basketball team if the stands are empty.

  • kinsella316

    Usher’s fall-away three in the southeast corner in the second half was a thing of beauty. But, he didn’t make a FG from about the 9-minute mark until garbage time with under 30 seconds left. So… they gave up 31 to a dude in 30 minutes, but then when it mattered, Usher was quiet.

    It should also be noted that Sobo was o-fer until about 8 minutes to go too, but then kick-started the stretch run.

    Crawford needs to be better than getting in foul trouble like that. Swopshire was very impressive. I’m interested in Olah’s potential… with him and Turner, it’s refreshing to see some big guys with a bit of spring in their step (still trying to flush memories of Luka).

    It’s a win, meh. Way too close for comfort.

  • Since when should success be the precurser to fan support? Students act like the basketball, and to a lesser extent the football programs are required to earn their support. The entitlement in treating these sports like they are about serving the fans above the players is appauling. These athletes bust their ass everyday with practice and class, not to mention the large amount of time they spend doing community service. They do their best to represent this school and community, and do it without the lawlessness and NCAA rule-breaking rampant in other programs. The least we can do is support them, regardless of their record, ability, or quality of their opponent.

  • I felt that Swop may have had an even larger contribution on the defensive end tonight than on offense. Yes he was great from behind the arc, which was the one aspect of his game that I was not so sure on, but he played with active hands all night, and also stepped up to guard Usher at times. His added length over Reggie Hearn allowed him to give Usher an extra step.

  • Db

    Per last night, you actually need a game like that, where Crawford is a no show. They scored 80 without him which I would have thought would be difficult. I really fear this team will have trouble scoring guven the lack of precedent, glad to see some guys step up and figure it out. Shon Morris said the first game that swop isn’t a shooter, we’ll see how that develops because we need him to score 10-15/ game, and he will get a ton of open looks at the circle.

    While the opportunity to see people step up wasnt a horrible outcome, last night was evidence this team will take a while to gel (as it should) and that it will go as far as Crawford will take them.

  • Nate

    Followed along on GameTracker so I didn’t see anything…Drew can’t afford to have many more disappearing acts, but kudos to the others for stepping up. Overall, concerning but something to grow on as this team continues to figure itself out…I could argue that NCAA Tourney teams don’t struggle with non-conference cupcakes, but I won’t…I’ll wait to start constructly criticizing this team when they play real opponents starting with Maryland. Might go check them out on Tuesday night against Delaware St., I need to learn the roster, so many new faces.

  • Ridiculous

    Listen to yourself. You just said the ‘Cats were flat and painful to watch and then you call out the students? After 13 years of generally terrible basketball, that’s ridiculous. Maybe they’re smarter than most (or rather, smarter than whoever showed up last night and have yet to figure it out). I live in Evanston and you would literally have to pay me to go to an NU vs MVSU game. Carmody hasn’t earned the support.

    • It’s not like this is the 9-22 teams we cheered for as undergrads. Hoops games are a blast when the student section turns out and makes W-R one of the better environments out there. It’s a chicken-egg argument, but after 4 straight years of being on the cusp of history, I guess I expect more of both the team and the students.