EVANSTON-After all the talk about the return of JerShon Cobb and the emergence of true freshman Nate Taphorn, Drew Crawford used Saturday's 72-55 win over Easten Illinois to remind everyone that he's still No.1 on this Northwestern squad.
And he made the statement in quite a few ways.
Perhaps his return was first noticeable after the thunderous block of Alex Austin's lay-in attempt, which brought the crowd to its feet in the first half and helped to spark Northwestern's initial run.
Maybe it was his first three-pointer of the night that caused people to pay attention. Or his third. Or his fifth.
His 10th rebound, which gave Crawford a double-double, could have done the trick, as well. He'd end up leading all players with 11 boards.
"I thought Drew played like a fifth-year, All-Big Ten player tonight," said head coach Chris Collins after his first career win.
And Collins thinks Crawford can be even better. With so many fouls being awarded, Collins wants to see his star get to the free-throw line more often. That's when the point total will really see a spike.
For an opening night performance, however, it wasn't too shabby.
"I thought he showed tonight what he can be," Collins said.
Crawford's 25 points were his most since he scored 27 in a 2012 NIT win over Akron, and the performance spurred Northwestern to the win. Cobb finished with nine points and eight assists and Sanjay Lumpkin tallied nine points on 3-of-3 shooting from behind the arc. But Crawford was the player who put everything into motion.
And, man, was he glad to finally get back out there on the court.
"It's the best feeling in the world to be out there on the court," Crawford said.
He didn't waste a single of his 35 minutes. The huge block came just three minutes into the game, and his first points arrived just a couple minutes later. Crawford spent most of the night in "the zone"; he was 8-of-14 from the floor and 5-of-7 from deep.
"I was feeling good," he said. "So my teammates did a great job of finding me."
In the eyes of Collins and Lumpkin, however, Crawford's biggest addition came as Eastern Illinois rattled off 15 straight points to cut Northwestern's lead from 18 to three.
"He kept everyone composed," Lumpkin said.
It's likely no coincidence Crawford went 0-for-3 over the five-and-a-half minute stretch in which EIU climbed back into the game. Collins, though, insisted that Crawford missing shots wasn't an issue. The fifth-year senior has the coach's and the team's trust to keep on hoisting.
"He knows that I have his back. He's our guy," Collins said. "If he has a shot, we all expect him to take it."
On Saturday, Crawford took plenty. And, in turn, he reminded Northwestern fans just what this team was missing last year as he sat out with a season-ending shoulder injury.
Now, however, he's back.
And don't expect anyone to forget it.