Men’s Basketball: Cats win season opener 77-55

Danny Daly

Even the absence of leading scorer Kevin Coble couldn’t stop Northwestern from starting the new season off on the right foot.Senior guard Jeremy Nash scored 20 points, sophomore center Luka Mirkovic added 12 more down low, and NU came away with a decisive 77-55 home victory over Northern Illinois.The Wildcats fell behind early, trailing 16-11 after eight-and-a-half minutes had elapsed. But a 15-1 stretch put them ahead for good, and they extended their lead to 14 points by halftime.A major factor in NU’s surge was its ability to get the ball inside. It helped that Northern Illinois center Sean Kowal picked up two fouls in the first four minutes, forcing him to the bench. Layups and free throws accounted for 12 straight points late in the first half, and the Cats finished with 48 free throw attempts for the game – their most ever during coach Bill Carmody’s 10-year tenure.The arc of the second half was similar to that of the first. The Huskies cut the deficit to 42-34 early, but Kowal picked up his fourth foul with 15:45 left and had to take another break. That effectively ended Northern Illinois’ comeback bid, as NU put the game away with a 10-1 run in less than three minutes.Neither team had much success from 3-point range, combining to make 7-of-39 from long range. The Cats’ 1-3-1 zone caused problems for the Huskies throughout the game. They took advantage of their length to contest nearly every shot.”It stopped some of their drives,” Carmody said. “It slowed them down, and they were a little more hesitant. For a stretch there, it just seemed like they got the ball and just put their head down and beat us. We had to do something about that.”

Meanwhile, Northern Illinois switched from man-to-man to a 3-2 zone when Kowal got in foul trouble, which helped take away the perimeter but opened up the post.

Thirteen different players saw the floor for NU, with seven of them playing more than 10 minutes. Sophomore forward John Shurna scored all of his 11 points after intermission, having rode the bench with two fouls for most of the first half. Though he struggled from beyond the arc, junior guard Michael Thompson also managed to score in double figures, tallying 12 points and committing no turnovers.

NU’s next game is Nov. 18, at home against No. 10 Butler. Getting to play a talented opponent like Northern Illinois to begin the year helped NU tune up before facing a top-10 team.

“I’m actually glad we did play a team like that,” Thompson said. “They’re a pretty good team, they have a pretty good coach, so that’s going to help us go forward and get us prepared for our next game against Butler.”

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