Men’s Basketball: Wildcats ready for season opener against New Orleans


Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

A.J. Turner begins his motion of shooting a jumper. The junior forward will play in his first regular season game for the Wildcats on Thursday.

Ella Brockway, Reporter

Men’s Basketball

Coach Chris Collins has won all five season openers in his half-decade at Northwestern. In fact, in the 24 seasons he has spent in college basketball — four as a player at Duke, two as an assistant at Seton Hall, thirteen as an assistant at his alma mater and five with the Wildcats — he’s won every season opener but one. The only blip on an otherwise spotless resume comes from a neutral-site loss to Indiana to start Seton Hall’s 1998-99 season.

After nearly 20 straight years of kicking off seasons with a win, Collins hasn’t grown complacent. As NU officially opens its 2018-19 campaign against New Orleans on Thursday — the first of three non-conference, non-Power Five opponents the Cats will face at home in nine days — the coach is viewing the game with the same intensity he would any other.

“We’ve got to take what’s in front of us,” Collins said. “When you play these teams, everyone’s undefeated right now, so you’re playing a confident team that’s been practicing and is ready to go.”

The game will be NU’s first official game in the new Welsh-Ryan Arena, after last week’s 83-44 exhibition win over McKendree christened the new floor.

While not an official game, the Cats’ depth was on display in last Friday’s matchup. Senior forward Vic Law led all scorers with 14 points and shot 6-for-11 from the field but played only 19 minutes. Collins was eager to experiment with different lineups and combinations, resulting in no player seeing more than 24 minutes on the court.

“We didn’t get off to a great start in the first four minutes or so,” Collins said. “Our second unit came in and just really got us going, got some steals, got in the open floor and then it put the guys that started the game at ease, and they responded the rest of the way.”

For half of NU’s ten-man rotation — graduate transfer guard Ryan Taylor, junior forward A.J. Turner and three freshmen in forwards Pete Nance and Miller Kopp and guard Ryan Greer — the exhibition game was their first time suiting up in uniform for the Cats. Taylor scored 12 points in a team-high 24 minutes while the freshmen combined for 20 points and 13 rebounds.

Turner, who transferred to NU from Boston College and sat out the entire 2017-18 season while redshirting, finished with eight points and six assists in his first college game in nearly 20 months. The junior said he and the other new players felt comfortable meshing into NU’s system in their debuts.

“We’ve known for a while, but in the game situation, we saw that we had a lot of depth,” Turner said. “It showed us how versatile we are, how deep we can go into our bench, which will really help us once we get into the regular games.”

The Cats have faced the Privateers twice in the last three seasons, most recently claiming an 83-49 win in 2016. New Orleans went on to win the Southland Conference and make the NCAA Tournament that season, but finished in the middle of the conference with a 16-17 record in their 2017-18 campaign.

NU narrowly avoided an upset in its season opener last year, holding off Loyola Maryland’s late-game comeback attempt to sneak away with a 79-75 win. A groggy start to the 2017-18 campaign — the Cats followed up their first victory with an ugly, 17-turnover win over Saint Peter’s and then lost to Creighton — foreshadowed struggles that would plague them later in the year, and taught a valuable lesson about the importance of starting the season off strong.

“(We want to) perfect our principles,” senior center Dererk Pardon said. “Defensively and offensively, just sharpen up a lot of things we’re going to need later on in the season (and) trying to get those to work now to see how they can work later on in the year.”

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