The expression on Bill Carmody’s face as the buzzer sounded was worth a thousand words. He exhaled, smirked and seemed stunned all at the same time. It was the look befitting a coach who was in his first year of a rebuilding project and was coming to the stark realization of what he’d gotten himself in to. Yet, here it was partway through season number 13 and Carmody had just survived, BARELY survived, a win over now 4-7 Texas State. At home.
Yes, this is going to be a tough winter in Evanston folks. We may start looking in to the numerology with the luck the ‘Cats are having in the health department. This was the first game after final exams and as is usual, NU scheduled a very winnable opponent, knowing it is always shake off the rust night after a week of no games and few practices. Surely, NU would be able to handle Texas State even without the services of Drew Crawford, who as you know is gone for the year with season-ending shoulder surgery, right? Well, beware the blackshirts, my friend. Crawford was sitting on the pine next to fellow injured forward Nikola Cerina, who was donning an NU black Under Armour shirt, apparentlly the clothing code for DNP-Injury. I had advised that perhaps Carmody should just empty the bench and use this season as a glorified tryout for playing time next year, and for awhile it looked like that was in the cards.
Kale Abrahamson started. Tre Demps got big minutes and once again exploded with points in bursts. Sanjay Lumpkin got in to the game for quality minutes and on and on it went. Yet, this is David Sobolewski’s team and the sophomore point guard was taking control early, despite horrible transition defense by the ‘Cats, sloppy play across the board and downright miserable free throw shooting. This one was an old fashioned stinker of a game. Thankfully, the ‘Cats were able to connect early and often from downtown as they at one point hit five straight threes. They’d need every one of them.
Texas State, perhaps foreshadowing a mere glimpse of the power that will be the B1G bigs powering up on us, completely dominated the paint as Joel Wright and Wesley Davis simply couldn’t be stopped as both poured in 19 points creating a super tough night for Alex Olah. The first half seemed to have NU out of sync, grappling with chemistry challenges and court spacing. Yet, Sobo continued his head shaking (good) ways by creating offense by penetrating. Tre Demps was bombing away and drained several threes and Kale Abrahamson got on the board early as well. Yet, once again Sobo found himself in foul trouble early in the second half in a tight game. No problem, Tre Demps was there to pick up the slack. Not so fast, my friend. Demps turned his ankle on a shot in the key and hobbled down the court and was promptly taken out of the game. He disappeared from the bench and finally returned, minutes later, donning the black shirt, and joined Crawford and Cerina. The ‘Cats proceeded to go 10 minutes without a field goal, yet managed to somehow stay within striking distance. Every trip to the free throw line became an adventure, but the sheer volume of charity stripe attempts, enabled our feeble 56% mark to make a dent in Texas State’s lead.
The Bobcats seemingly had the game on the verge of being put away and forward Corey Stern finished off a baseline jam by doing a push-up which put the WAC visitors up 68-62 with just over three minutes to go. The ‘Cats were listless and confused at this point and it had that very familiar feel of a loss. However, Stern got called for the tech, and it would spark one of the oddest runs you’ll see. You see, NU couldn’t buy a basket. We simply went to the line trying to earn our way to the 50% mark. We’d go 1-2 or even 1-3 trip after trip, but to Carmody’s credit he zapped the 1-3-1 on them and it completely changed the game. NU became scrappy and stripped the ball multiple times and forced bad shots on other trips. Then, David Sobolewski drained a huge three in front of the ‘Cats bench to stake a 2-point lead and we kept the momentum going. Sobo was huge. He was barking at teammates, creating fouls when the shot clock wound down, and hit shots when we needed them. The rest of the ‘Cats seemed to be a bit overreliant on Sobo’s heroics, but to NU’s credit, guys like Reggie Hearn and Jared Swopshire scrapped on the boards in the clutch and we actually put a string of four straight free throws together in the final two minutes.
Do yourself a favor and don’t look past the schedule that is on the LTP right column (it stops in 2012). Eyeing this team against the likes of #2 Michigan in the opener or the slew of top ten teams on our schedule (Indiana, Ohio State, Illinois) might make you realize that nausea isn’t bad egg nog. We can’t afford a guy like Demps to be out. We can’t afford to lose ANY player the rest of the way. Plus, this team really needs to become a much better free throw shooting team and find some kind of consistent rhythm quickly. You can gut out a win while playing relatively lousy for a half against Texas State. However, you won’t win a B1G game against any opponent if you do that for even a five minute stretch this winter. Northwestern’s 74-68 win moves them to 8-3 on the season and they host Stanford next on Friday night. Here are some key stats for the ‘Cats:
- 12/28 3-pt shooting (42.9%)
- 11 turnovers, outrebounded 35-25
- 14/25 FT shooting (56%)
- Sobo – 18 pts (5/11, 3/7 3pt), 4 assists, 4 TO
- Hearn – 15 pts, 4 rebs, 4 steals
- Demps – 12 pts (3/4 3pt), 14 minutes (left due to injury)
- Olah – 8 pts, 7 asst, 3 reb