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.