Northwestern rebounded from an uneven win over Mississippi Valley State with a 27-point blowout over an overmatched Fairleigh Dickinson team Sunday afternoon at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The ‘Cats move to 3-0 on the year with the win, but the bigger question lingering after this game surrounds the health of Nikola Cerina, who made his debut and looked very impressive, but seemingly rolled his ankle late in the second half. Cerina was writhing on the floor in pain and had to be helped off the floor, albeit while putting weight on the foot as he did so.
Early on it was the Reggie Hearn show as he exploded out of the gates by hitting a pair of threes and another bucket en route to his team high 14 points. A combination of some decent defense and horrid shooting by the Knights helped Northwestern to a statistical anomaly – the second 41-14 halftime lead in three games. I know what you’re thinking – “when was the last time…” – but, let me end the suspense. The LTP research department doesn’t go that deep!
With all due respect to Fairleigh Dickinson, I’m not sure what this game does to clue in Northwestern fans on progress or big picture takeaways. The ‘Cats were bigger, stronger and faster at every position on the floor. In essence, it was a glorified scrimmage against a team that won five games last year and Bill Carmody did just that. All game long Carmody did a good job of experimenting with personnel – big lineups, small lineups – you get the idea. Candidly, as I watched the game on BTN Digital – my biggest plotline for the recap was going to be about Nikola Cerina, the TCU transfer who finally made his much anticipated debut. Cerina missed the opener for personal reasons and then got the DNP vs MVSU. Within seconds of entering the game, Cerina grabbed a rebound on defense and then got the ball in the post and showed on his first touch that he is the strongest player we have. He took an entry pass from the point, drop stepped with a power dribble and schooled his defender for a lay-up. For all of you who have sprained or rolled an ankle you know it could mean anything from an instant recovery to months of agony. Let’s hope it isn’t the latter.
Alex Olah had a huge mismatch as his man was about 5 inches shorter and about 60 pounds lighter and it showed. The ‘Cats starting center had his way in the post and continued his consistent play with 10 pts and nine rebounds in 16 minutes of play. The biggest concern for ‘Cats fans prior to Cerina’s injury was the tough day for Drew Crawford. After a frustrating, foul-plagued performance against MVSU, the senior star struggled, seemingly pressing at times on 4-13 shooting and an eight point day. Crawford did contribute on the stat sheet with 5 rebounds, 4 assists and a sweet blocked shot.
Fairleigh Dickinson shot just 37% (23/62) while Northwestern posted a 47% mark, yet the ‘Cats were a dismal 5 of 22 from three point range (23%). The ‘Cats dominated the boards and bested the Knights with a 50 rebound to 34 rebound advantage. Kale Abrahamson continues to impress with his sharpshooting and he put up 9 points on 4/7 shooting. Tre Demps flashed some athleticism on both ends of the floor, including a nifty drive to the hole that was Crawford-esque. Alex Marcotullio played very well with nine points and he cut back on his reaches picking up only one foul. In all, Carmody played 10 players at least 10 minutes, yet it was the guy who played a mere six minutes who drew the biggest crowd noise on this day. Chier Ajou, the 7-2 freshman project got a huge ovation when he scored his first collegiate basket on a late low post move that drew a foul and turned in to a 3-point play. Ajou nearly had another baseline hook, and he looked much more comfortable today in his limited play. Below are the boxscores for the game:
|Totals||200||23-62 (.371)||3-12 (.250)||4-16 (.250)||9-34||14||3||7||10||16||53|
|J. Montgomery III||6||0-0||0-0||0-0||1-1||0||1||0||0||0||0|
|Totals||200||33-70 (.471)||9-13 (.692)||5-22 (.227)||15-50||24||5||3||8||9||80|
‘Cats Miss Out on Top 25….Barely
Northwestern is next in line in the AP Poll, finishing 26th this week. Kind of. The ‘Cats tied with both Boise State and Washington with 20 points, as the first teams in the “Also Receiving Votes”. But, Utah State and Mississipi State tied for 25th with 82 points. So, we’re really tied for 27th, which is the exact same number we are in the Coaches Poll. In the Coaches Poll Utah State is 26th and Kent State is the last man in the Top 25 with 86 points, Northwestern has 59. You can check out all the polls here, but you already know that Notre Dame is now the #1 team in the nation. If you want to feed the “what if” factor how about the fact that if we could’ve closed out games a 1 vs 2 Notre Dame vs Northwestern game could’ve happened.