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February 2, 2013ŘEVANSTON-When the man who had just spent 27 minutes dishing out passes to his teammates fell to the court, the gasp in Welsh-Ryan Arena was audible.
With 2:31 remaining in Northwestern's 75-60 win over Purdue on Saturday, the Wildcat floor general clutched his ankle before limping off the court under his own power.
No, the man largely responsible for aiding the Wildcats as they tallied 24 assists to go along with 26 field goals was none other than freshman center Alex Olah.
Luckily, head coach Bill Carmody said he does not think the injury to the 7-footer is anything serious.
It's a good thing, too. The team was much more effective on Saturday with the hybrid point guard-big man on the court.
Sure, Hearn stole the show Saturday, pouring in a career-high 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting, but Olah's role in orchestrating the offense cannot be denied.
While the job of dealing out passes normally falls to sophomore point man Sobolewski, Olah reinvented himself Saturday as a point-center. He touched the ball on almost every possession when he was in the game.
And the results could not have been better for the Wildcats, who raced out to a 12-0 lead and kept a double-digit lead over the Boilders for almost the entire game.
Olah, who was not available to the media after the game, finished with five assists, second only to Sobolewski's six, to go along with his nine points. However, the box score does not express just how valuable Olah was against the Boilermakers.
When Sobolewski dumped the ball to his center at the top of the key, Olah responded like a veteran. His decision making was on point, helping the Cats to finish with only six total turnovers, including zero in the second half.
In Sobolewski's mind, the success Northwestern enjoyed on both offense and defense directly stemmed from Olah's big game.
"It seemed like every guy who drove had to shoot over him, which was really good to see," Sobolewski said. "Offensively, he had some big shots for us. If he can get that 15-footer to fall those make the whole team feel really good when those go in."
Olah's performance as a court general does not completely negate the mistakes he made Saturday. The true freshman still has many aspects of his game on which he needs to improve. As Big Ten play continues, Olah is going to make mistakes. It's inevitable.
The Romanian sometimes lacks the intensity and strength to match up against Big Ten centers, and he pulled down just three rebounds against the Boilers. He often shies away from contact, settling for his hook shot instead of going strong to the rim.
But Saturday was less about the improvements that Olah will need to make in the future and more about the tremendous poise and maturity he showed in a dismantling of the Purdue defense. From his spot at the top of the key, Olah rarely looked flustered, holding the ball and pointing to indicate where teammates should go. He hit cutters coming through the lane, fed the ball to shooters coming off screens, and understood when to shoot the ball himself.
Though it was just one game -- and this Northwestern team has certainly reverted to bad habits at times this year -- it seemed to signify a development that had Carmody very pleased following Saturday's game.
"I thought he did a really nice job," Carmody said. "There is a progression there: just a normal maturation."
Yet while it may seem like this performance came out of nowhere, Carmody attributed Olah's recent stretch of good play to the work he's putting in outside of practice.
"He's been coming to the gym and working out between classes," Carmody said. "He's watching some tape, becoming a little more of a student of the game."
Sobolewski agreed with his coach and stressed the importance of Olah's development.
"He was a big part of what we did tonight," Sobolewski said, "and he keeps getting better."