Men’s Basketball: Hearn, Swopshire propel Wildcats past pesky Delta Devils


Daily file photo by Meghan White

Northwestern forward Jared Swopshire scored 22 points and chipped in 6 rebounds in the Wildcats’ win over the Delta Devils on Thursday. Swopshire transferred from Louisville in the offseason and figures to play major minutes for NU this season.

Alex Putterman, Reporter

Northwestern gets credited with a win for Thursday night’s performance, but it wasn’t an effort the Wildcats hope to repeat.

NU (2-0) defeated Mississippi Valley State (0-3) 81-68 at Welsh-Ryan Arena in a contest for which the outcome was uncertain deep into the second half, a troubling result for a team that hopes to contend in the Big Ten this season.

Things began to go poorly for the Cats about 8 minutes into the game, when senior forward Drew Crawford picked up his second foul and grabbed a seat on the bench for the rest of the half. While fellow wings Jared Swopshire and Reggie Hearn picked up the offensive slack, scoring a combined 24 of NU’s 40 first half points, the Cats had no answer on defense for Delta Devils’ junior college transfer Davon Usher.

After two seasons at Polk State College, a Florida junior college, Usher began his Division I career at Mississippi Valley State with 19 points against Ole Miss and 13 more against No. 24 Cincinnati in season-opening losses. But those outputs were nothing compared to the show the forward put on against the Cats. Usher scored 19 points in the first half, and led by their new star, the Delta Devils trailed only 40-38 at the break.

“We just let them hang around,” coach Bill Carmody said. “That was my feeling at half, and then they gained confidence.”

Three minutes into the second period, with NU up one, Crawford picked up his fourth foul and returned to the bench, leaving the Cats without their best player for much of the second half. Crawford would finish with only 3 points in 15 minutes, his lowest scoring total since March 2, 2011.

Luckily for NU, Hearn and Swopshire were wearing purple and white. The duo continued their offensive dominance, scoring the Cats first 13 points of the second half, and an Alex Marcotullio 3-pointer with 13:18 on the clock gave NU an 11-point lead.

“I’ve got faith in our guys,” Hearn said. “Me, (Dave Sobolewski), Al, we’re all veterans, we’ve been playing here for a while. Swop’s a fifth-year guy. So I had faith that we’d be able to stick through it today.”

But the resilient Delta Devils took those points right back, launching a 13-2 run punctuated by an Usher three that tied the game at 58 with 9:39 to play.

Then came Sobolewski’s awakening. The senior guard hit a driving layup on which he was fouled, then minutes later made a three, 2 free throws, another layup, another three and another free throw. When the barrage was over, Sobolewski had his first 13 points of the season and the Cats had a 76-64 lead. Swopshire spoke of the fuel for NU’s final push.

“We kept telling each other to keep pressuring them defensively and keep being aggressive on the offensive end,” the forward said. “So we were able to make that run toward the end of the game.”

When the final buzzer finally sounded, NU had a 13-point win that was difficult to be proud of. An area of particular concern for the Cats was their inability to guard Usher, who finished with 35 points on 12-18 shooting, including 7-8 from behind the arc.

“We weren’t able to contain him,” Carmody said. “We said we had to be there on the catch with him, and we weren’t.”

Hearn, who led NU with 23 points, said he took “full responsibility” for Usher’s outburst.

“There were a couple times I wasn’t there on the catch,” Hearn said. “It took me 30 minutes to figure out I needed to face-guard this kid … If he went to the bathroom I needed to go with him.”

With a game against Fairleigh Dickinson (0-1) only three days away, the Cats have little time to linger on their difficulties against the Delta Devils. Still, Carmody said the scare was good for NU.

“The guys don’t feel good about the win,” he said. “There are a lot of things to work on. And that’s good.”