Men’s Basketball: Excitement for Wildcats growing at Welsh-Ryan Arena

Rohan Nadkarni, Reporter

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The day he was introduced as Northwestern’s new coach, Chris Collins promised a raucous atmosphere at Welsh-Ryan Arena, regardless of the gym’s dated features.

Collins delivered on his promise Saturday, even as the Wildcats fell to Nebraska, 53-49.

Welsh-Ryan was packed with purple. The crowd was a far cry from many other NU games, where opposing fans or sparse student sections marred the game’s appearance.

The excitement was palpable Saturday. The early afternoon contest even drew out school celebrities such as Michael Wilbon (Medill ’80), Dan Persa and Evan Eschmeyer. Collins’ father Doug, a former NBA head coach, was also in attendance.

“It was awesome. I’m so pleased with the turnout,” Collins said. “That’s what my guys deserve. They’re so proud to be wearing the jersey with ‘Northwestern’ on it. You need every little ounce of energy.”

The Wildcats’ recent success was certainly a factor in drawing out students.But the Collins effect is just as much of a boost. The rookie head coach filmed a video during the week urging students to make it to Saturday’s game. The result was a student section on each end of the court full before tip-off. The crowd was at its loudest late in the second half.

After falling behind by as many as 8, NU tied the game on a 3 by senior forward Drew Crawford. Nearly the entire arena roared to its feet. Athletic director Jim Phillips punctuated the excitement by waving his fists in joy from his seat in the lower bowl.

Crawford noticed the increased energy even around campus.

“It’s been awesome. The students, alumni, everybody has been so supportive,” he said. “It feels great to come into a game and see the stands packed. I’m just hoping they’ll stay with us.”

Junior guard JerShon Cobb earned his own moment with the crowd. Referees robbed Cobb of a basket when they missed a goaltend by Nebraska. The crowd screamed in disapproval, and Cobb was grateful for the support.

“It was great,” he said. “Hopefully (the fans) come out like that for every game.”

The focus now moves to the future. Saturday’s loss derailed momentum for the Cats’ already-faint postseason hopes, and could do the same for the fans’ energy. NU has three home games left before the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.

In the long-term, fans should be rewarded with some upgrades to Welsh-Ryan. The Chicago Tribune reported in November that NU has planned upgrades for the arena for next season, including a new video scoreboard.

Collins believes the energy will carry forward for a long time.“To me, it’s only going to get better,” Collins said. “This is just the start. I appreciate it. We need that kind of support.”

Twitter: @Rohan_NU