EVANSTON-For a brief period in the second half of Northwestern's 69-50 win on Tuesday night, Delaware State tested the Wildcats' resolve.
In a game that was supposed to be a blowout from the opening tip, the Hornets cut NU's second-half lead from 20 points down to 8, 50-42, after Tyshawn Bell hit a 3-pointer with 9:25 left.
It was then that the Wildcats kicked into gear.
Dave Sobolewski answered Bell with a 3 of his own, and Mike Turner grabbed a rebound in the lane and scored on a nifty jump hook.
Bell connected on another 3, but Jared Swopshire came right back with a layup that he turned into a 3-point play.
Then Alex Olah, at the free throw line, made a nice pass inside to Alex Marcotullio in the paint. Recognizing an oncoming double-team, Marcotullio kicked the ball out to Reggie Hearn on the wing, and Hearn drained the open triple.
Drew Crawford followed that with a layup off of a Sobolewski miss and suddenly, in just three minutes, the score was 63-45 with 6:24 left.
The Cats coasted home from that point.
Crawford, who played all 40 minutes and scored a team-high 18 points, said that Northwestern never really sweat in that stretch, despite the fact that they saw their lead dwindle to single digits.
"I think that's something good about our team is that we maintain a level of calmness, especially with Dave (Sobolewski) at point guard," said the Cats' senior leader. "We're always calm out there. We talk as a team, make sure we lock in on defense, what we need to change, who's scoring on us…
"We have to pay attention to it because they were making a great run, but at the same time we maintain our composure, we know we can get that lead back up."
Northwestern got off to a slow start against the Hornets, trailing by six early and not drawing even until the halfway point of the first half. Wildcat coach Bill Carmody attributed that to the "funky" matchup zone defense the Hornets employed.
Eventually, the Wildcats started moving the ball, as well as knocking down the open shots they missed in the first 10 minutes. By halftime, Northwestern held a 35-22 edge, and the lead ballooned to 20 before Delaware State rallied.
DSU Guard Tahj Tate, who led all scorers with 23 points, hit 4-of-6 shots from beyond the arc and was generally a bone in the Wildcats' Thanksgiving turkey all night. The Hornets didn't really have much else -- their center, Kendall Gray, did not play, and 6-foot-7 Marques Oliver, who scored six early points, hurt his right leg in the first half and didn't play in the second.
Sobolewski, who drew Carmody's praise and wound up with 14 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds, says that the Wildcats are eager to hit the road to play some better competition at the South Padre Island Invitational, which begins Friday. There, the Wildcats will play TCU, and then either Illinois State or UAB.
If the Wildcats draw ISU, they are bound for a tougher game than they played on this night: the Redbirds waxed this same Delaware State team by 39 points on Sunday night.
Injury update: Carmody said that Nikola Cerina has a sprained ankle and will be out "for a while." Freshman Sanjay Lumpkin, who has mononucleosis and has yet to play for the Cats, has been "riding the bike the last couple of days," according to Carmody.
It's an East Coast thing: Carmody said "I love it" when asked about the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten. Carmody, of course, was raised in New Jersey and previously coached at Princeton. He also complimented Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who "has a pretty good track record in these kinds of things."
Turkey Day: Northwestern will leave tomorrow afternoon and be in South Padre Island for the rest of the week. They will practice on Thanksgiving Day and then go out to eat as a team. "Hopefully, we can find some turkey," said Sobolewski.