Men’s Basketball: Northwestern runs away from Penn State

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Daily file photo by Susan Du

Sophomore point guard Dave Sobolewski dribbles up the court. Sobolewski scored 18 points in the Wildcats’ first Big Ten win of the season.

Josh Walfish, Reporter

Northwestern put together Thursday its best performance of the young Big Ten season to earn its first conference win of the 2013 campaign.

The Wildcats (10-6, 1-2 Big Ten) ended the first half on a 25-6 run to take the lead for good and beat the Nittany Lions (8-7, 0-3) 70-54.

“It seems like we’re playing a little bit better on the road this year than we are at home,” coach Bill Carmody said. “We just had that run in the last 10 minutes of the first half and all around a nice effort for the team.”

The first half run set the tone for the game, but NU always seemed to have an answer for Penn State. Each time the Nittany Lions came close to getting back into the game, the Cats found a way to respond and extend the lead. In the second half, the Nittany Lions cut the deficit to 13 with 11 minutes and 39 seconds remaining, but just four minutes later the gap was at 23 points, the largest lead of the game for NU.

Sophomore point guard Dave Sobolewski said as important as the run in the first half was for the Cats, he thought the little runs in the second half were even more important. He said it was crucial for NU to make sure Penn State could not get back into the game on its home floor and said the team did a great job accomplishing that.

“In my eyes it was even more important that we came out in the second half and didn’t let them back into the game,” Sobolewski said. “It was really important to keep that momentum after halftime to make sure they couldn’t get any momentum at home and try to get back into the game.”

NU did right Thursday night many of the little things the team has not executed very well all year. The Cats were nearly even in the rebounding column thanks to eight boards from freshman Alex Olah and seven from senior forward Jared Swopshire. They also limited the Nittany Lions’ second-chance and fast-break points, something NU struggled to do Sunday against Minnesota. They also made Penn State pay for turnovers, scoring 13 points on 11 takeaways. More importantly, NU took care of the ball better than it has in previous games and was able to run its offense efficiently.

On Wednesday, Swopshire talked about how the small things were holding the Cats back from winning games. He said Thursday he thought NU did an excellent job at executing on the small details.

“A big key tonight was rebounding and defense,” Swopshire said. “For the most part we were able to do that. We were able to stick with the scouting report and coach (Fred) Hill did a good job with that.”

The Cats were able to get four players in double figures, led by Sobolewski’s 18 points. Swopshire added 17 in one of his most complete performance as a member of the Cats, but it was Sobolewski who got much of the attention from his coach. Carmody said he was happy with his point guard’s performance and said it was important for him to score with two of the Cats’ better scorers hurting.

“(Sobolewski) got some shots up and that’s what I think is important,” Carmody said. “He’s got to put the ball in the basket, get some shots up especially now that Drew (Crawford) is gone and Reggie (Hearn) is not 100 percent.”

However, NU’s greatest accomplishments came on the defensive end of the floor. The Cats held the Nittany Lions to less than 32 percent shooting from the field and limited Penn State to just 20 percent shooting from behind the arc. As a team, NU stole the ball six times and blocked seven shots. The Cats also were successful on the defensive glass, limiting Penn State to 15 offensive rebounds, most of which never materialized into quality second-chance opportunities.

All in all, the team’s performance Thursday night left Carmody pleased with his players’ performance. Swopshire said the game gives NU great momentum for Sunday’s game with Iowa (11-5, 0-3) at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

“It defintely gives us some confidence getting the first conference win of the season,” Swopshire said. “Iowa’s a really good team so we got to come ready to practice (Friday), and we’ll be ready for them on Sunday.”