Dec. 23, 2013
NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski offers up a look back at the Northwestern men's basketball team's 58-52 home win Sunday over Brown heading into a brief break for the holidays.
The `Cats, with the ball, are up two on Brown in their Sunday matinee, and now Chris Collins is signaling out orders to Dave Sobowlewski. Dribble here to this spot in front of the bench and call time. Those are the orders, and the point follows them, and then the `Cats huddle up with 49.9 seconds on the game clock and 11 on the shot clock.
A play is drawn up now, a play that aims to get the ball to Drew Crawford down in the post. "It's one of our favorites from a side out-of-bounds, but they did good job. They took it away," Collins will later recall, and so the ball goes from Crawford to center Alex Olah to Sobolewski to forward Kale Abrahamson deep in the left corner.
"Green! Green! Green!" they are now shouting from the `Cat bench, indicating that the shot clock is winding down.
"That means," Collins will explain, "it's time to go. You've got to make a play."
So Abrahamson goes, driving the left baseline and drawing a foul and kissing in a layup and finally converting his free throw with 42.9 seconds remaining. "He heard the command from the bench and he just made a play," Collins will finally say. "It put us up five. In a game like this, that's a huge margin."
That was arguably the hugest play in the `Cats six-point win over the Bears and it was only appropriate that it was delivered by Abrahamson, one of their role players. For this victory belonged to them as well as to the estimable Crawford, who carried them offensively through this game's first half.
In those 20 minutes, the rest of the `Cats were four-of-22 overall (18.2 percent) and 0-of-nine on their threes and managed to put up just eight points. But Crawford, in stark contrast, was resplendent, going six-of-10 overall and two-of-four on his threes and scoring 17 while also grabbing six rebounds. That was the reason they were only down only two at the break, that and a defense as stingy as Scrooge.
"Our defense was phenomenal. Phenomenal. Not good. It was phenomenal," Collins would later aver, and it would remain that way throughout this game. (Brown would end with 52 points while shooting just 31.7 percent overall and 20 percent on its threes.) But in the second half the Bears more closely attended Crawford, packing the lane to deny him the drive, increasing their help when he touched the ball, and so here he cooled, scoring only seven more points after the break.
"I think it was just the flow of the game," he would later say when asked the difference between his first half and second. "One of the big things was Kale stepping up. Kale stepped up and made some great plays. When they changed defensive schemes and focused in on me a little bit more, other guys are able to step up and Kale did a great job of doing that in the second half. Got to the basket. Rebounded so well. Got a couple and-ones. So I'm really proud of him."
"Kale's and Alex's offense in the second half was much needed," echoed Collins. "Drew was getting tired. He was getting tired and he will. He got 11 rebounds. He's blocking shots. He's playing defense. We expect him to score 25. He's going to get tired. Other guys need to step up and I thought those two guys really did offensively."
Crawford, in fact, would make his penultimate field goal (and last three) of the game with 16:43 remaining and here the first of the other guys to step up was guard Tre Demps. He first hit a three and then a left-handed scoop layup to keep the `Cats close, and then it was time for Abrhamson to take a turn. He blocked a Bear shot, grabbed the rebound and, at the other end, immediately hit a three to tie the game at 39. On the next Bear possession he ran down a long rebound and, on the next `Cat possession, he grabbed a weak-side offensive rebound.
"I thought Kale did a great job," Collins would later enthuse. "Like I told Kale after the game, Kale went one-for-seven from three and he played a great game. That's been what I've been trying to talk to Kale about all along. He's an outstanding shooter. But don't base your performance on whether you make threes. Base it upon what-kind-of-game-did-you-play. Obviously he got a huge three-point play and made some free throws down the stretch. But I thought his floor game and energy were outstanding."
Now, 105 seconds after Abrahamson's offensive rebound, Olah corralled a Sobolewski miss and laid it in while getting fouled. He would miss his free throw here, would miss two more just under a minute later. But at 8:34 he dropped in a three from the left wing and then, at 7:47, he grabbed an Abrahamson miss and put it in as well.
That stretched the `Cats lead to five and now they nursed their lead, never lost their lead, protected their lead until they went "Green" and Abrahamson made his play of the game.
Surely it is a cliche. Yet it is still fair to say that this `Cat win was a team win. Their star starred. Their role players contributed and made up for the absence of JerShon Cobb, who missed his second straight game with a sprained ankle. Their spine was tested and remained firm, and their nerves were too as Crawford and Demps hit all four of their free throws in the last 17 seconds. Their energy was palpable, their defense was penurious and their efforts forced Sean McGonagill--the Bears' All-Ivy guard--to take 16 shots to get his 16 points. "With a really good scorer, I've always said, with a really good scorer, you want to try to have as close to a shot-to-point ratio as possible," Collins would say, explaining the importance of that stat.
"You're not going to shut out a really good scorer. You're not going to hold him to zero. But the fact is we held him to 16 points on 16 shots. So that was one-to-one. He only had one (made) free throw (on two attempts). I thought our guys did a good job of really staying with him, not fouling him, and he's a tough player, made some tough shots. I really respect him, heck of a player. I told him after the game, watching him on film, I really enjoy watching him. I love his spunk. He's tough to guard."
One last snapshot from this game: With 3:24 remaining Bear guard Tavon Blackmon offers a layup and, from another zip code, Crawford skies and somehow blocks in and lands heavily on his surgically-repaired right shoulder. He gets up grimacing, then starts testing that shoulder, and finally Collins calls a time out. "I'm always concerned if Drew's wincing or not looking like he's healthy. That's why I took a time out," he will later explain. "I saw him kind of (rolling) his shoulder and there were a couple minutes left and we couldn't afford to waste a possession. So I took a time out there just so he could settle down, relax, realize he was OK."
"I just landed a little bit awkwardly. But I don't think it's anything to worry about," Crawford himself would finally say. "It feels good. It feels fine. I guess you can say it was tested, and it still feels fine. I'm good."
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