Men’s Basketball: Swopshire leads Wildcats to South Padre Island Invitational victory

Rebecca Friedman, Reporter

Any Wildcat would have happily swapped shoes with Louisville transfer forward Jared Swopshire on Sunday after his MVP performance in the South Padre Island Invitational.

Swopshire posted 15 points and 10 rebounds in Northwestern’s 72-69 overtime victory over Illinois State to clinch the tournament and a team-high 15 points in the Wildcats’ previous victory over Texas Christian University.

Senior forward Drew Crawford was also key for the Cats, contributing a team-high 20 points in the Illinois State victory and 12 points in the Texas Christian University win on his way to a spot on the all-tournament team.

Senior Reggie Hearn was impressed by Swopshire’s transition and multi-dimensional play.

“He’s fitting in really well. We thought he could help us with our defense and our rebounding, and he’s done that and averaged a lot of points along the way, too,” Hearn said. “He’s very versatile for us, doing a lot of things on both ends of the court.”

Swopshire attributes his success to a smooth transition and the ability to practice two hours a day with the coaches over the summer, a new NCAA rule.

Coach Bill Carmody acknowledges what Swopshire’s play adds to the team but also emphasized the intangibles that he brings to the table. 

“I like the calmness that he has,” Carmody said. “There’s a maturity level there. I think it helps some of these younger guys. They see how he behaves and takes care of business.”

Composure was huge for the Cats in their overtime victory. After trailing 26-23 at the half, NU found itself down by 9 early in the second half. Thanks to 5 straight points by Hearn, the Cats closed the Redbirds’ lead to 4. With 15 minutes left, Illinois State held a 6-point lead. The Cats battled to a 43-43 tie and pulled ahead at 3:47 with a 3-pointer by Crawford. NU was able to maintain at least a 1-point lead until, with 9.7 seconds left on the clock, the Redbirds nailed a 3-pointer to tie the score at 55 apiece.

The Cats were able to outlast the Redbirds in the overtime period, thanks to 10-for-11 free throw shooting and impressive play from sophomore guard Dave Sobolewski and Swopshire.

“We feel really good about it,” Hearn said. “It was a good challenge for us early. We learned a lot of things. We came together as a team, and it’s going to help us down the road.”

The day before, the NU bested Texas Christian University 55-31, the least points allowed by the Cats since 1998.

“Our defense is getting better,” Carmody said. “You don’t win anything in November (but also) don’t lose that much.”

Carmody emphasized how the season has been a progression, with each team getting better as NU improved game by game as well.

Performances like the one against Illinois State are important for the Cats, who failed to end strong in competitive games last season.

“(We’re) making sure that we finish close games,” Hearn said. “It hurt us last year. It’s something that we did well against Illinois State. We need to make sure we close it out. It gave us a lot of confidence going forward. We know the Big Ten will be strong this year. There will be more games like that.”

The physicality and defensive prowess of the tournament prepares the Cats for their contest against future Big Ten contender Maryland on Tuesday.

“It’s an ACC team that’s very physical that will try and overpower you,” Carmody said.

Swopshire emphasized that the Terrapins’ size both down low and at the guard position.

“We’ve watched a lot of film on them,” he said. “They have nice size, big guards. It’s going to be a challenge for us, but we’ve had a lot of preparation. We’ll be ready.”