EVANSTON-There's no reason to put too much stock into an exhibition matchup, but Northwestern's game on Wednesday against the Lewis Flyers provided the first real look at the Wildcats under Chris Collins.
Here, then, are some impressions from a 57-46 win over Lewis.
Offense: The Cats struggled on the offensive side of the ball early in the game, shooting just 8-of-25 from the floor in the first half, but they settled down as the game went on and ended up with a respectable 57 points on the night. JerShon Cobb led all players in the first half with nine points, and finished with 12. True freshman Nate Taphorn was another bright spot and nailed both of his three-point attempts. Overall, though, the Cats seemed to struggle to find high-percentage shots. Northwestern didn't drive into the lane much, with the exception of Cobb's coast-to-coast lay-in as time expired in the first half. There clearly are still kinks to work out before this team gets to the tough part of its schedule.
The second half, however, showed marked improvement. Northwestern put up 18 points in just more than seven minutes to open the second half, and Drew Crawford began to make his impact felt. Crawford finished with 15 points, all but two of which came in the second half. The offensive side of the ball could clearly use the most work, especially in the transition game.
Collins, though, thinks first game jitters could be to blame for the rough performance in the early going.
"We'll settle down offensively," he said.
Defense: Northwestern held Lewis to 46 points overall, including just 18 in the first half. The Flyers shot only 20.7 percent in the first half, which would suggest a good defensive effort from the Wildcats. In actuality, many of Lewis' shots were wide open, and the game could have been much closer than the end result. Northwestern needs to tighten up; Big Ten schools won't miss those sorts of shots.
From a rebounding standpoint, Northwestern grabbed 21 of the 25 possible defensive boards. Nikola Cerina was a big part of the rebounding effort. He grabbed eight boards in 13 first half minutes, and finished with nine for the game. Without Cerina, Collins said, Northwestern wouldn't have won the game.
"I'll tell you what, Niko was the unsung hero of the game," he said.
Other schools won't be quite so easy to guard, but Crawford said he was pretty pleased with his team's defensive performance.
"I thought we did well defensively, especially in the first half," Crawford said. "One of the biggest things we're preaching is just talking to each other."
Drew Crawford: B+. Crawford shook off a slow start in the first half to finish with 15 points to lead all scorers. Collins said after the game that he thought Crawford "was going a little too fast" in the beginning, but that he settled down well. Northwestern will need Crawford to impose his will more during the season, and he can't disappear from games like he did at times in the first half.
JerShon Cobb: A-. Cobb came back from a year off with a bang by scoring nine points in the first half, including a length of the court buzzer-beating layup. Though he cramped up in the second half, he definitely provided the second scoring option the Cats needed. His defensive effort was also fairly solid, and he seems poised for a big season.
Alex Olah: C+. Olah made a couple nice post moves at the beginning of each half, but foul trouble kept him from making two much of an impact. Collins called him a "two-headed monster" after the game for his ability to take over games, but not much of that happened on Wednesday night. He pulled down just one board.
Sanjay Lumpkin: B. Lumpkin got his first start on Wednesday, and he had a pretty solid performance. He knocked down a three-pointer, as well as two other field goals, and grabbed eight boards. He played 31 minutes against the Flyers, and should see lots of time all year. But he must make sure he can stay out of foul trouble. Lumpkin finished with four fouls on Wednesday.
Dave Sobolewski: B-. Sobolewski didn't do much on Wednesday night from a box score standpoint, but that wasn't really required. As the year continues, though, he'll need to add scoring to his repertoire, in addition to his role as floor general. He had four assists and three turnovers on the night to go with three points, but his presence was missed when he wasn't on the floor. The Cats will need him to play a lot of minutes this year. Without him at the point, they look lost.
Nate Taphorn: A. Welcome to college basketball, Mr. Taphorn. In his first career "game," Taphorn rang up 10 points on 2-of-3 shooting from the floor, including 2-for-2 from beyond the arc. Add four boards, a steal and a block, and this freshman exceeded the hype he faced coming into the program. This kid could be a game changer.
Nikola Cerina: A-. He didn't do much from a scoring standpoint, but the big man had a great game on the boards. Cerina finished with nine rebounds and was the reason the Cats won the game, according to Collins.
Tre Demps: D. He went 0-of-7 from the floor, including 0-of-5 from three-point range, and didn't do much to make his presence felt in any phase of the game. Two points in 20 minutes is not good enough from a player who started several games last year.
Kale Abrahamson: N/A. He only played three minutes, which is significantly less than the playing time he received during most of last season. We know he can shoot, but if this game is any indication -- and it may or may not be -- he may be buried too far down the bench to get any meaningful playing time.