EVANSTON-Three players scored in double figures and Northwestern used an all-around stifling defensive effort to pick up an emphatic 51-35 victory over the visiting Western Michigan Broncos at Welsh-Ryan Arena Saturday afternoon.
The 35 points scored by WMU were the fewest surrendered by the Wildcats since holding TCU to 31 on Nov. 23, 2012.
NU's Drew Crawford led all scorers with 15 points, while JerShon Cobb added 11 and Alex Olah chipped in with 10 off the bench for the 'Cats. Cobb added a game-high three steals as the home team forced 15 turnovers and held its adversaries to just 24.4 percent shooting for the game.
Northwestern controlled the tempo on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor to open the nonconference contest Saturday. The Wildcats used a balanced attack with seven different scorers registering at least two points in the opening half and a swarming defensive effort as it forced the Broncos into 10 first-half turnovers and a field-goal percentage of just 23.5.
Saturday marked the first time this season that NU held an opponent to fewer than 22 points in a single half when they surrendered only 12 in the first 20 minutes of play. It was the first time an opponent was held under 20 points since January 6, 2013 when No. 9/13 Minnesota scored only 17 points in the first half of that contest.
Northwestern raced out to an early 6-0 lead Saturday with the help of a few acrobatic transition baskets scored by Sanjay Lumpkin and Cobb. The 'Cats capped an 8-2 run when Dave Sobolewski pulled down an offensive rebound and dropped in a short jumper to push the home team's lead to 10 points as it lead 16-6 with just under nine minutes remaining in the opening half.
During the first-half run, the Wildcats were also getting it done on the defensive end of the floor. Western Michigan was hampered offensively as it failed to score a point for more than five minutes until David Brown's driving layup found the bottom of the net with 8:13 left in the half. A jumper from NU newcomer Nathan Taphorn soon gave the 'Cats a half-high 14-point lead with under two minutes to play. NU led at the break, 24-12.
The 12 points by the Broncos were the fewest by a Northwestern opponent in a half since Delaware State had 10 in the first half on Dec. 27, 2004.
The iron remained unkind to the visiting Broncos in the second half. WMU registered a single tally, on a free throw, through the first 5:48 of play and Northwestern capitalized to push its lead to 18 points on a layup from Cobb.
Chicago's Big Ten Team continued to grind it out on both ends of the floor. A three-pointer from Crawford, his second of the contest, pushed the lead to a comfortable 20 points with 7:56 remaining.
Western Michigan orchestrated a five-point run, but sophomore sharpshooter Kale Abrahamson extinguished that rally with a three-pointer from the top of the key with 11:21 left to play for his first basket of the ballgame. The Broncos would be unable to cut the deficit to fewer than 14 points the rest of the way.
Crawford added nine rebounds to lead the Wildcats, while five of his teammates hauled in at least three boards, as well.
The Wildcats will break from competition for the next eight days as they take final exams. The squad will return to the hardwood at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Monday, December 16 when it hosts Mississippi Valley State at 6 p.m.