Men’s Basketball: New-look lineup leads Wildcats to blowout of Broncos


Sophomore center Alex Olah goes up for a shot. Olah was benched from the starting lineup before Saturday's game against Western Michigan but responded with a strong performance, notching 10 points and six rebounds.

Alex Putterman, Assistant Sports Editor

The Wildcats shook up their starting lineup Saturday, and the results were fairly impressive.

Northwestern (5-5) snapped a three-game losing streak, defeating Western Michigan (5-3) 51-35 at Welsh-Ryan Arena in what coach Chris Collins called the team’s best game of the year.

Collins dramatically altered NU’s starting lineup for the game. Junior guard Dave Sobolewski and sophomore center Alex Olah both came off the bench for the first time this season, as seniors James Montgomery III and Nikola Cerina took their respective places in the starting lineup. Sobolewski had previously started every game of his college career, and Olah started 29 of the 31 games for which he was healthy in 2012-13.

The change, Collins said, was a response to the team’s blowout loss to North Carolina State on Wednesday, in which he felt NU didn’t “fight” as well as it could have.

“After our last couple games I felt like we needed some energy in the lineup,”Collins said. “It was nothing against anybody, nothing against the two guys who didn’t start. … My decision to do what I did was my instinct telling me we needed a change.”

Whether or not it was a result of the lineup shift, the Cats came out with energy on both ends and led by as many as 14 in the first half. Olah played particularly well, tallying 6 points and three rebounds before the break and finished with 10 and six on the day.

Junior guard JerShon Cobb and senior forward Drew Crawford pitched in with 11 and 15 points, respectively. Crawford added nine rebounds, and Cobb led the team with five assists.

But it was the Cats’ defense that excelled all evening. NU held Western Michigan to 24.4 percent shooting and forced 15 Broncos turnovers.

“We stuck to the scouting reports,” Cobb said of NU’s defense. “We talked, we had each other’s back, and it showed.”

Four Western Michigan players accounted for all but one of the their team’s points, with center Shayne Whittington leading the way with 12 points.

Three-point shooting was a problem for the Cats again, who entered the night shooting 35.9 percent on the season from behind the arc. After missing all 11 long-range attempts before halftime Saturday, NU finished the game 3-19 from deep.

“We just don’t have our legs under us real well because we’re a great shooting team,” Crawford said. “Good shooters always go through periods where you have tough shooting sprees, but you just have to stay with it, keep shooting the ball.

The rotation shake-up lasted beyond tip-off. Montgomery played a career-high 9 minutes, and Collins praised the former-walk-on’s contributions on defense, saying he “might have been the most important part of us winning.”

Sobolewski played only 15 minutes, shooting 1-6 overall and failing to net any of this three 3-pointers. The junior is NU’s only true point guard but has seen his playing time diminish as his shooting percentage has dived below 35 percent.

The Cats received a special visit from Collins’ former Duke boss, all-time NCAA coaching wins leader Mike Krzyzewski.

Krzyzewski, who Collins said was in town for recruiting, sat with athletic director Jim Phillips during the game and spoke to the Cats’ players afterward.

“He’s like part of my family,” Collins said. “The main thing he wanted to do was make sure I wasn’t going to be messed up by him in there. It was an honor to have him at our game.“

With final exams this week, NU won’t play again until Dec. 16, when it hosts Mississippi Valley State. The rest is needed by a team that has now played nine games in 23 days, including two trips to the West Coast.

“We’ve had a really tough stretch,” Collins said. “Our guys are tired, but they didn’t show it today.”

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