With 12:29 remaining in the second half, coach Bill Carmody called a timeout. Freshman Alex Olah had just been beaten underneath the hoop for an easy layup and Carmody refused to sit still.
At that point, Northwestern led by 18. The outcome was never in doubt and neither was the purpose. Call it a learning experience.
The Wildcats rolled to a 70-46 win against the University of Chicago on Wednesday. More importantly, Carmody sent six new players to the floor for their first ever minutes in an NU uniform.
“You want to coach it like a regular game, which we did,” Carmody said. “But we also wanted to get some new guys that are new to the program in there just so they get a taste of things.”
Senior Drew Crawford led the team with 13 points and pulled down eight rebounds – seven in the first half.
Olah had 12 points and a team-high nine rebounds, while redshirt freshman Tre Demps poured in an efficient 11 points. Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire added nine points and five boards.
In the essentials, NU succeeded. Although Chicago hardly posed an offensive threat, the defense stayed strong throughout, holding the Maroons to just 29 percent shooting. NU, one of the worst rebounding teams in the country last season, finished with a crucial 45-39 advantage in that department.
On the other end, the Cats focused on spreading the ball. Senior point guard Dave Sobolewski said that after all of the offseason practice, he was prepared to work with the new faces.
“It was different learning tendencies of the guys earlier on,” sophomore Dave Sobolewski said. “At this point, we’re all caught up to speed in that, and ready to start playing.”
Crawford opened scoring with an emphatic dunk on a set play that he said they have “been trying to get (right) for years.” The starting unit gave the Cats an 11-3 lead before the initial substitution.
Demps was a high-impact bench player, knocking down a pair of triples in a span of less than three minutes to a give NU a 13-point advantage. The Cats took a 37-18 lead into halftime. In particular, Carmody stressed his confidence in the team’s guard play under the leadership of Sobolewski.
“The backcourt, I feel pretty good about,” Carmody said. “We just have to flesh out what the rotation of freshmen is going to be.”
Despite struggles with his interior defense, the new and relatively untested Olah showed flashes of his potential in the second half.
With the defense backed off, the 7-footer drained a surprising three-pointer. That gave NU a decisive 51-28 lead. He later dropped one of his signature hook shots.
After watching him play with hesitancy in a recent practice, Carmody instructed Olah to be more aggressive. The 7-footer clearly took heed of the coaching.
“Today, every time he touched it, he shot the ball,” Carmody joked. “At least he listens to me.”
With an insurmountable lead, Carmody went deep down his bench, as he sent 14 players to the floor.
He saw contributions from a strong freshman core, which included the athletic Sanjay Lumpkin. Although Lumpkin scored just one basket, the stats fail to tell the story. His active hands and tight defense could help him make an impact – right away.
“He’s definitely going to contribute this year,” Crawford said of Lumpkin. “A lot of times in practice, he’s the one hustling.”
Fellow freshman Kale Abrahamson struggled in his first collegiate appearance. After missing his first five shots, Abrahamson finally hit the score sheet with 1:38 remaining, to the delight of his teammates.
Carmody chalked Abrahamson’s jittery play to nerves.
“Kale just has to get more and more time,” Carmody said. “He was very anxious to get out there and shoot the ball. That’s what he does and that’s what we want him to do, but he has to calm down a little bit.”
The Cats open their regular season Tuesday against Texas Southern at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
With this newfound depth, one gets the impression that Carmody will have some difficult decisions to make looking forward.
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