NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski takes a look back at Northwestern's 63-42 victory over Brown on Sunday to close out the Wildcats' nonconference portion of their schedule.
FIRST, AN UPDATE: Senior guard Reggie Hearn, the 'Cats leading scorer who twisted his ankle during their Friday night loss to Stanford, sat out their Sunday win over Brown. "But I'm sure he'll be back. Friday, we'll be back for practice and they seem to think he'll be OK," Bill Carmody said after that 21-point victory.
COLOR THEM RUST, NOT BROWN: The Bears were coming off exams and playing their first game in 15 days. "That's not easy. You've got to acknowledge that," said Carmody, but it certainly made the 'Cats task easier. They hit five-or-their-first six three-point attempts as their opponents reoriented themselves to competition, and led 15-0 with just over four minutes gone. From here that lead would never be less than eight and would once swell to as much as 33.
THE STOPPER: Brown guard Matt Sullivan, a Loyola Academy grad, entered this affair averaging 15.7 points-per-game, the best in the Ivy League. But at Welsh-Ryan he could never escape 'Cat forward Jared Swopshire, who attended him as ardently as a mom does her new-born babe. Sullivan, as a result, missed his first six shots; got his only basket of the day on a back-door layup at 8:22 of the second half; and then fouled out with just those two points a little over a minute later.
Swopshire's work here represented the work of the entire 'Cat defense, which held Brown to just 30.6 percent shooting overall, to 28.6 percent shooting on its threes and to 21.5 points below its season average. "I thought, overall, our defense was pretty good," Carmody later said. "It seemed every 10 minutes they got 10 points. You win a lot of games if you do that."
REASON TO BELIEVE: The 'Cat offense, this season, has occasionally sputtered and appeared out-of-sorts. But Sunday, even without Hearn and (of course) Drew Crawford, it often hummed, which is why it ended with 48.9 percent shooting overall, with 54.2 percent shooting on threes, and with 21 assists on 23 field goals. It produced only one double-figure scorer, point Dave Sobolewski, who ended with 14. But, not insignificantly, Tre Demps and Kale Abrahamson and Alex Marcotullio each finished with nine, and Swopshire and Alex Olah each finished with eight. "I thought we ran through our stuff nicely and our shots went in, our shots went in," Carmody said of his offense at one point. "Usually that happens. Nobody was breaking plays, they were executing like they do in practice. That was good to see."
At another point, not insignificantly, he also said, "I think we actually learned a lot tonight, I really do. If you execute--you've still got to make the shots on offense--but if you execute, you're going to get the kind of looks we think we can make."
HE LEARNED: Sobolewski missed all six of his field goal attempts last Friday against Stanford and, on Sunday, he also missed the three he took in the first half. He finally dropped a three from the right wing at 17:43 of the second and, in that half, he would go five-of-six and collect all of his team-high points. "Sobo, he's had a rough time," Carmody later said of his performance. "I think I told him in one of the time outs, he's a bulldog, So-bo-lew-ski. He's a hard guy, drops his shoulder, puts his elbow out on anybody. I told him he has to be a little bit more like a French poodle, but not quite that. Shooting off the bounce. If there's space, shoot it. You have to be a threat. Just don't go in there and hope for the best. He hit some big shots out there today. I think that's going to help his whole game."
"I know what he's saying," Sobolewski himself would say. "I don't always have to be, like he said, a bulldog trying to get into the lane and finish with a foul sometimes. Maybe it's a floater, maybe it's a pull-up, a little 10-to-15 foot pull-up. I agree. If I could add that part into my game, I think that would be a big help."
THEY MUST LEARN: At one point in the second half the five 'Cats on the court were the sophomore Sobolewski; the redshirt freshmen Demps and Mike Turner; and the true freshmen Abrahamson and Sanjay Lumpkin. There was a reason for that. This was the 'Cats final game before Big Ten play, and Carmody was looking to feed his youngsters that experience they will need in the withering conference battles to come. "Everyday you're teaching. Everyday you're teaching because you've got new guys," Carmody said of working with a group that now has only three players experienced in his system (Marcotullio, Sobolewski and Hearn).
"So everyday I'm on Kale's tail. 'You've got to do better. You've got to do better.' You want them to play, all right? We have good freshmen, I think, very talented young guys. We played the other night against Stanford and that kid from Bishop Gorman, 6-8, Rosco (Allen), he was one of the most-highly recruited guys in the country. But he's not quite there yet, some nights you don't notice him. That's what happens with freshmen. It takes time, all right. It takes time. But the more playing time they get in games, in different kinds of games, the better they're going to be."
"Everyday is more-and-more experience for them, which gets us better and better," Sobolewski would later add. "Everyday in practice, I think some of these freshmen need to learn we get on them because they need to start picking it up. They're doing a great job of it. But the more we tell them what they're doing wrong, the more they'll learn. There's definitely still room for improvement. At this time last year, I had a lot of room for improvement in terms of knowing the offense. As coach said, we just have to get better with it, and all this experience they're getting now is huge for us. We see it everyday. They're starting to pick more things up and starting to make better reads on the court, so I think they're coming along well."
And just how far as he come, Abrahamson was now asked.
"A long way," he said with a smile. "You should have seen me the first day of summer school. I was getting beat back door. I was messing up every second. Pretty much the whole summer, I didn't really improve. But at this point it's gotten a lot better and it's the same with everybody. I can see steps each day."
SO, IN THE END, THIS WAS A LEARNING EXPERIENCE: "It's huge. It's huge to not only get the win, but to come out and play well," Sobolewski would finally say when asked the significance of this win. "It was tough not having Reggie out there. Regardless of the opponent, he wasn't ready to go. We think, we're pretty sure we'll have him back for January. But it was great coming out and playing well. As coach said, I think we learned a lot today. We communicated the best we have all year on defense in terms of talking out there, switching when we needed to switch, fighting over screens when we needed to do that. So especially on the defensive end, we learned what it takes to shut people down."