Men’s Basketball: Northwestern overcomes early struggle against Gardner-Webb


Daily file photo by Brian Lee

Redshirt senior Drew Crawford dives for the ball in a game earlier this season. Crawford led Northwestern with 26 points in the Wildcats' win against Mississippi Valley State.

Alex Putterman, Reporter

The Wildcats earned no style points for their win Monday.

Northwestern (4-2) defeated Gardner-Webb (2-4) 72-59 Monday at Welsh-Ryan Arena, the team’s second-straight underwhelming victory.

Days after narrowly beating IUPUI at home in the first game of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational, the Cats faltered similarly against the Running Bulldogs. NU barely led at halftime and struggled to put away Gardner-Webb down the stretch.

Still, coach Chris Collins said he is happy with the performance.

“I’m really excited about this win,” he said. “Sometimes you look at the names of these schools, and you don’t realize how good these teams are.”

The first half was particularly unaesthetic, with the teams engaging in a slow and sloppy sleeper.

NU and Gardner-Webb combined to shoot 3-17 from 3-point range before halftime and sunk only 18 of their 29 cumulative free throws. They combined for more turnovers than assists and tallied not a single fast break point between them.

An optimist would note NU held Gardner-Webb to 29.2 percent shooting in the first half. Anyone else would point out the Cats themselves shot only 33.3 percent.

But NU’s 28-25 halftime lead grew quickly. Sophomore center Alex Olah keyed a 15-6 run out of the locker room, and the Cats’ lead was never seriously challenged thereafter.

“We always talk about taking the ball to the basket,” Collins said. “It’s something we’re trying to do more of. You’re a little bit of a product of who you are though at times. We only have a few guys that really can do that consistently.”

A faster-paced second half was highlighted by an Olah transition dunk, a slam over a Gardner-Webb defender by freshman Nate Taphorn and Drew Crawford’s and one put-back lay-up. Overall, the Cats hit two-thirds of their field goals after the break.

Olah stepped up for NU all night, contributing his best game of the season while many of his teammates struggled. The sophomore led the Cats with a career-high 18 points on 8-11 shooting and blocked five shots. His offensive post moves were especially effective.

“Coaches were on me to be more aggressive on the post.” Olah said. “I have to be a presence on the post. Every time I get the ball in there I have to make a move.”

Redshirt junior guard JerShon Cobb scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half, and Crawford, a redshirt senior forward, dropped in 15 of his own. The pair also added eight rebounds apiece.

Despite the strong shooting in the second half, NU was only 3-16 from long-range. Gardner-Webb, meanwhile, hit on 35.1 percent of its field goals including 2-14 from deep against a blend of Cats defensive schemes.

“One of the things we need to focus on as a team is attacking teams with our defense,” Crawford said. “We have to be a good defensive team because there are going to be nights when your shot isn’t falling.”

NU now heads to Las Vegas to face Missouri and UCLA over Thanksgiving weekend as part of the invitational. The Tigers and Bruins are a combined 9-0 on the season and will pose an enormous challenge for the underdeveloped NU squad.

Collins said he has been too busy watching tape of IUPUI and Gardner-Webb to have studied the upcoming opponents but he knows they’re “really good.”

“Every game we play, we have to play our tails off to win,” the coach said. “It doesn’t matter who you play and where you’re playing them.”

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