Men’s Basketball: Olah keeps Wildcats steady through up-and-down game

Ben Pope, Reporter

Men’s Basketball

With Northwestern’s perimeter shooting as cold as the air outside Welsh-Ryan Arena during the early going of Friday’s 79-57 win over Massachusetts Lowell, senior center Alex Olah proved to be a rock the team could lean on.

In a scrappy, ugly game in which both rust-laden teams shot below 46 percent from the field, Olah’s physical domination in the paint and under the glass provided the steadying force that kept the Wildcats alive until they eventually found a shooting rhythm.

“Our gameplan, no question, coming into the game was (that) we had to get it to Alex as much as possible,” coach Chris Collins said. “(UMass Lowell) did a good job defensively, but as the game wore on, I thought we did a good job getting it down low to him.”

The 7-foot Romanian led the team with 21 points, tied for the fourth-highest output of his career, and 12 rebounds, tied for the second-highest of his career.

Olah helped the Cats outscore the tremendously undersized River Hawks 38-14 in the paint and 9-3 in second chance points. UMass Lowell had no player within four inches of Olah and only one player taller than 6 feet 3 inches in its starting five.

On defense, Olah primarily guarded UMass Lowell’s Jahad Thomas, who, at 6 feet 2 inches, barely reached Olah’s chin. Thomas made just four-of-13 field goal attempts.

Collins, however, noted the difficulty of the assignment for Olah, who was forced to try to keep up with the much quicker, smaller forward.

“It’s not easy to guard a 6-foot-2-inch center being 7 feet,” said Collins. “(He) is chasing him around, trying to keep him in front of him without fouling, and then we’re also asking him to give us 21 and 12. I thought Alex played a terrific basketball game tonight on both ends of the floor.”

Even once the Cats found their game, even once freshman forward Aaron Falzon heated up from deep, even once the crowd of more than 6,000 was able to relax with NU up double-digits, Olah continued to make his presence felt, quiet and steady as usual. Olah snatched a slightly errant pass from sophomore guard Bryant McIntosh out of the air between two defenders and laid it in with ease to put the Cats ahead 65-50 with 6:35 left.

“I have to punish people when I have such a big mismatch,” Olah said. “I took advantage of my size and my skill around the rim.”

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