Men’s Basketball: Wildcats pull out nail-biter against Jaguars

Bobby Pillote, Reporter

It was another slow start for Northwestern at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

After handily defeating Illinois-Chicago on Wednesday by a 35-point margin, the Wildcats (3-2) struggled early against the IUPUI Jaguars (2-4), but recovered to capture a dramatic 63-61 victory.

Redshirt senior forward Drew Crawford, NU’s star scorer, finished the first half with 0 points on just three attempted shots. Joining him at the bottom of the box score was redshirt junior guard JerShon Cobb, another player expected to make big contributions this season. Cobb was just 1-of-6 from the field in the opening half.

“Give them credit,” Crawford said, “they did a good job defensively. … I just have to come out and attack and be more aggressive, and I didn’t do that in the first half tonight.”

At the opposite end of the spectrum, redshirt freshman forward Sanjay Lumpkin continued his strong play for the Cats. He hit his first four shots, and finished the half with 8 points, five rebounds and an assist.

“Sanjay is our do-everything guy,” coach Chris Collins said. “He’s one of our most important guys. It might not show up with points, but he’s a great rebounder and our best defender.”

Sophomore Kale Abrahamson and freshman Nate Taphorn made key contributions off the bench. The forwards combined for just 13 minutes in the first half, but together were 3-for-5 from 3-point range and added two rebounds.

“There’s going to be nights where they’re playing heavy minutes,” Collins said. “They just have to be ready.”

Despite committing six turnovers in the opening 20 minutes, NU entered the locker room trailing by just 3 points.

Foul trouble plagued the Cats to open the second half. Lumpkin was called for a technical foul and was pulled from the game when he picked up his fourth personal foul just five minutes in.

Picking up his third foul moments after Lumpkin left, junior guard Dave Sobolewski also spent much of the second half on the bench. One game removed from leading the team with a career-high 25 points, Sobolewski finished with 10 points.

The score was tight throughout the second half, but Crawford returned to form to lead NU to victory. He ended the night with 12 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. It was his second double-double of the season.

Cobb had a quiet final 20 minutes, but hit the winning layup for the Cats with 2.3 seconds to play.

“On the last play, JerShon just made a play,” Collins said. “He was the guy I wanted with the ball, even though he wasn’t having his best night.”

NU also unveiled a 2-3 zone defense midway through the second half to stifle IUPUI’s inside penetration.

Overall it was a strong team effort from NU, with five players finishing the game with at least 8 points.

“There’s not going to be an easy game on our schedule,” Collins said. “We can be a good team but … our margin for error is very slim.”

Twitter: @bobbypillote