Dec. 17, 2013
NUsports.com Special Contributor offers up a look back at Monday night's victory by the Northwestern men's basketball team over Mississippi Valley State.
Chris Collins calls the rolling time out with 53.1 seconds remaining and here Drew Crawford exits, replaced quickly by Kale Abrahamson. Now, in front of the `Cats bench, their young coach hugs their finest player and whispers simply, "You're a warrior."
"I've been telling our guys from day one, all I want all of our guys to do is have the urgency that Drew Crawford has every day," Collins will later say. "He's a fifth-year senior. This is his last go-around. For us to be successful and to maximize what we can be, we need everybody in that locker room-- he's an inspiration to me. There's times when maybe I get a little down, I get a little frustrated, I look at him him and he makes me want to keep fighting for him."
The `Cats took on Mississippi Valley State Monday night at Welsh-Ryan without JerShon Cobb, who throughout this season has played an admirable Robin to Crawford's dynamic Batman. He had sprained his ankle in practice, watched this game in gray sweats and is day-to-day for their Sunday matinee with Brown. But here that mattered little to Crawford, who on this evening was as smooth as cream spilling across a waxed floor.
He dropped nine of his 15 field goal attempts, hit seven of his eight free throw attempts, and finished with a game-high 26 points. He collected 10 rebounds and handed out five assists and had two blocks and took a charge and committed no turnovers and, through all of his 39 minutes, was the commanding figure in a maelstrom of swirling bodies. "I thought Drew Crawford was just a star tonight," Collins would later say. "With JerShon being out, he took on the challenge. He led us in every way."
"I think the biggest thing we have to do is play offense as a team," Crawford himself would say when asked if he is comfortable carrying that team. "That doesn't necessarily have to be me scoring. But coach is emphasizing playing inside out, getting the ball into the post whether it's to me or (center Alex) Olah. That's a big thing we've been working on and it worked for us tonight. But, yeah. I'm always comfortable with the ball in my hands."
The `Cats open every practice with a drive-and-kick drill, one of the foundations of an inside-out offense. That is now their best option, the option that best catalyzes their attack, and here they operated it efficiently against the Delta Devils, who got battered from various angles. Olah, exhibiting an aggression he too often lacks, hit them for 18 points, many on baby hooks that followed strong moves to the basket. Tre Demps, attacking judiciously, also nicked them with 18 of his own, and then there was Sanjay Lumpkin, who scored 13 while also grabbing 10 rebounds.
"He's our energy guy," Collins pointedly said of the last. "But we've also got to figure out a way to get him eight to 10 points in a game because scoring can be hard for us at times."
Scoring was not a problem for the `Cats on Monday. They finished with 86 points, their second-highest total of the season. The Delta Devils were not much of a problem either. They scrapped and they clawed and they often pressed all over the floor, yet they trailed by 10 at halftime, by 14 with 10 minutes remaining in the game, and never really threatened before falling by 22. So what do we take from this affair?
One obvious answer is that Crawford has the skills of a star. He, emphatically, reconfirmed that fact here.
Then there is the apparent maturation of Demps, who appears to have found both himself and a role. "I think I just slowed down a little bit," he said, addressing the first point when asked about the efficiency in his recent performances. "Early on in the year, I was really giddy, I was really excited. Just slowing down, watching film, getting the reps in practice-- those are the things I've done to just try and get in a rhythm. When I slow things down, I see the court a lot differently and can make the reads I'm supposed to."
Yet, to the second point, this does not mean he will soon be gracing the starting lineup. "I like to bring Tre off the bench," explained Collins. "It's not just about starting the game with the five best players. Tre's one of our best players. But he and I are on the same page, we've had meetings. He's going to play starter's minutes. He played 28 minutes tonight. But he understands the value of what he brings with the scoring punch off the bench. I like that dynamic."
"I actually like coming off the bench," said Demps himself. "I honestly prefer it because I get to see how the defense is playing and I get to see what they're running. I'm always talking to the assistants next to me. And I think the guys definitely look at me as a main contributor and having the guys' confidence, that's all I need. It doesn't matter who starts the game. A lot of great players came off the bench."
Finally, and this is a characteristic of a team still in search of itself, there is the fluidness of the `Cat rotation, which is an ever-changing thing. "I have confidence in all our guys," Collins said of this reality. "But I kind of go game-by-game, who's playing well. There might be a game where Kale (Abrahamson's) playing really and he plays a lot of minutes. (He got only seven on Monday). I thought tonight (freshman Nathan) Taphorn was going a good job, so I went with him a little longer. (He got 21.) It's just kind of a gut-instinct deal from game to game. We don't have-- other than Drew as our best player and JerShon has kind of emerged as our second guy-- the other guys, it's kind of game-to-game. We're just trying to do what we can to win."
Then there is beleaguered point Dave Sobolewski, whose struggles assumed a surrealistic hue on Monday. That happened first when his three from the right wing did everything but fall through before popping out, and then it happened again when he drove, made a layup as whistles blew, and had his basket disallowed when one official hit him with a charge and another hit Delta Devil guard Cortland Henry with a block. "They said it was like a do-over. I guess," Collins would say of that last play. "I was disappointed for Dave."
So Sobolweski's line, at the end, was 0-of-four overall and 0-of-three on his threes, which left him five-of-30 overall (16.3 percent) and one-of-20 on his threes (five percent) over his team's last five games. "I thought he got unlucky on a couple shots," Collins would finally say of him. "He's just having a hard time throwing it in the hole. He was in-and-out on a couple threes that were three-quarters of the way down. Then they took away a three-point play from him. More than anything, I thought it was a good move. But I also wanted to see him have some success. He's a big key to what we're doing moving forward. He's a veteran guy. He's our most true point guard out there. We need him to play well.
"He really shots the ball well in practice. I know people say that a lot. But I think right now he's just in a rut and it's gotten to him a little bit. It's mental. He needs to see it go into the basket. He'll get there. I always tell our guys, and maybe it's the wrong thing to do. But I didn't have much of a conscience when I shot. So if I shot 0-for 30, I in my mind felt i was going to go 30-for-30 at some point. I always believe the numbers even themselves out.
"But I'm anxious for him to start getting hot because he's getting good looks."
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