Men’s Basketball: Carmody calls for Wildcats’ veterans to step up


Daily file photo by Meghan White

Senior guard Reggie Hearn attempts a shot against Iowa. Hearn scored only 6 points against the Hawkeyes, prompting coach Bill Carmody to ask more of his veterans.

Ava Wallace, Assistant Sports Editor

Northwestern returns to Assembly Hall on Thursday with the hope that, for the second time since 1999, it can prevail on the road against in-state foe, Illinois.

The Wildcats (10-7, 1-3 Big Ten) broke their 13-year dry spell against the Fighting Illini (12-5, 1-3) last year with the help of then-junior guard Reggie Hearn and his career-high 20 points and then-senior forward John Shurna’s 24 points.

It’s no secret this year’s Cats do not have the shooting power of their predecessors – coach Bill Carmody said his team is still missing too many easy shots – but the team has a vision for their offense.

Carmody, Hearn, sophomore guard Dave Sobolewski and freshman center Alex Olah used the words “balance,” “efficient,” “crisp” and “productive” to describe the type of offense they hope to bring to Illinois on Thursday.

Defensively, NU may also be able to breathe a bit easier going up against Illinois after taking on Iowa.

The Illinois defense is the slightly weaker of the two opponents – the Fighting Illini rank last in the conference for defensive rebounding and allow opponents a full three points more per game than Iowa’s defense.

Illinois is also coming off of their own 20-point loss to conference leader Wisconsin.

But after NU shot 29.4 percent from the field against Iowa on Sunday, Carmody said the key to improvement in the Cats’ offense is quality shooting.

Better shooting, Carmody said, is all about minimizing pressure when his team has the ball.

“I’d like to see us have a little bit more balance and have us score a little bit more on the inside,” Carmody said. “We’re not going to get too many offensive rebounds or anything like that but I think we can make some more of our backdoor cuts – that takes a little heat off of our shooting, and then shots go in more because there’s not that pressure.”

Carmody has also been clear on whom he wants leading the team offensively and called out his veteran players after the Iowa game. Sobolewski, considered a veteran on this young team, led the Cats with 14 points last time out.

Hearn said he takes his coach’s veteran call-to-arms personally and acknowledged the magnitude of his influence as a leader on the team – he had 6 points on Sunday against the Hawkeyes. The senior also mentioned a key part of the team’s attempt at an offensive reboot is to “get the younger players a few more reps.”

Although Olah is a starter with more minutes than many of his elders, he said he accepts his role as a contributor to “the small stuff” – a couple of points here and there, and some rebounds.

Freshman center Mike Turner said in addition to stronger veteran leadership and practice for the younger players, rhythm is also crucial to a successful offense.

“There’s definitely a lot of a learning curve,” Turner said. “We’re just trying to not remain stagnant as best we can. He’s said for the last couple of games to keep it moving, keep it going, whatever it takes.”

Offensive woes aside, Sobolewski said offense is not the only thing the Cats will have to work on as a holistic unit on Thursday night. The Cats’ other main concern is Illinois’ senior guard Brandon Paul, who averages 18.1 points per game and is the second-ranked scorer in the Big Ten.

“You can’t stay off him because he’ll pull off and shoot threes on you, you can’t get close to him because he’ll drive past you,” Sobolewski said. “It’s going to take a whole team effort to get him out of this game.”