Exhibition win comes after early struggles (Men’s Basketball)

Jim Martinho

Northwestern men’s basketball coach Bill Carmody got what he expected from his team in its first exhibition game — some good and some bad.

Although the Wildcats came away with a 64-59 win over the EA Sports Midwest All-Stars at Welsh-Ryan Arena Saturday, the opening contest shed light on what Carmody expects to be one of the team’s shortcomings: rebounding.

NU looked overmatched on the boards early in the contest, making its cold shooting even more of a problem. Still, the Cats finished the game ahead in the rebounding battle, 25 to 23.

Guard Jitim Young and forward Winston Blake led the Cats with 19 points each.

EA Sports, a traveling team of former Division I college players, jumped out to an 11-2 lead behind a pair of three-pointers from Leon Jones. The former Michigan guard paced EA Sports with 16 points on 6 of 8 shooting.

The Cats struggled to execute on offense early in the game, turning the ball over four times and scoring only six points in the first 10 minutes.

Freshman point guard T.J. Parker ignited NU’s offense, picking off an errant EA Sports pass and speeding down the floor for a layup with 9:36 left in the half. Carmody’s Princeton-style offense started to come together as Parker found Blake and Vedran Vukusic for open treys on back-to-back plays.

The Cats outscored EA Sports 26-9 over the final 10 minutes to end the half with a 32-27 lead.

NU played without senior center Aaron Jennings, who sat out with shin splints. Vukusic started at the five spot, but the Cats’ offense got on track when Davor Duvancic entered the game midway through the first half.

“Vedran’s only been practicing at the position for five days, but I don’t want to make any excuses for him,” Carmody said. “We couldn’t get any scoring inside, and that was really disappointing.”

Young found Vukusic cutting to the basket to open the second half, and the Cats found players for back-door cuts several times in the half. NU scored 34 points in the paint with hardly any presence in the low post.

In the second half, NU never trailed and led by as many as eight points. But the team allowed EA Sports to stay in the game behind the three-point shooting of Jones and guard Mike Brownlee.

The Cats, on the other hand, were cold from behind the arc, making just 3 of 16 for the game.

“I would like it if we didn’t shoot so many threes,” Carmody said. “But I think we’re going to continue to do so. A.J.’s another guy who’s going to make some threes when he comes back.”

Parker and fellow freshman Jimmy Maley both saw extensive minutes and, as Carmody expected, both played well.

Parker impressed his teammates with his speed and ability to run the floor.

“That’s what I do — push the ball up and try to find the open man or drive,” Parker said. “I didn’t look to score too much today, probably because it’s the first game. But I’ll be out there trying to score more.”

Carmody said he got the scoring he anticipated from Blake and Young. But he said the Cats need more consistent rebounding from Vukusic and senior Jason Burke.

Young said the Cats will improve as they play better within the offense and start making more shots.

“We know we have guys on this team who can score,” Young said. “When we start shooting well from the field it shows we’re a poised team, and that’s just as important.”