EVANSTON-Northwestern is only two games into the 2012-13 season, but the Wildcats are in midseason form when it comes to giving their fans panic attacks.
The Wildcats only led Mississippi Valley State by 2 points at halftime, 40-38, and were up by only 1 with 10 minutes to play before eventually pulling away for a 81-68 win.
Head coach Bill Carmody looked like a man with fire ants in his suit jacket during the close affair but did say after the game he thought it was good to have a scare.
"The guys don't feel good about the win," he said. "That's good."
Former walkon guard Reggie Hearn displayed some timely senior leadership as Drew Crawford wasted away on the bench in foul trouble. Crawford earned himself a seat near Carmody with two fouls in the first seven minutes of action in the first half. Less than four minutes into the second half, Crawford picked up another two fouls in rapid succession with the game still very much in doubt.
With their top scorer limited to 16 minutes on Thursday night, it was Hearn who kept his team alive. He shot 8-for-12 from the field, including 4-for-6 from deep, to finish with 23 points. He also added six assists and had a pair of huge offensive rebounds that turned into Wildcat 3-pointers after Crawford got his fourth foul, preventing MSVU from ever taking over the lead.
"I'm a senior now," Hearn said. "It's just time for me to assert myself. That's the only way I can put it."
While Hearn asserted himself on the offensive end, Northwestern showed its defense is still a work in progress.
Davon Usher, the Delta Devils' lefty point guard, scored 19 of MSVU's 38 first-half points, including five 3-pointers. He finished with 35 points, going 12-for-18 from the field and 7-for-8 from beyond the arc.
"We got to figure out who's going to be a [defensive] stopper for us," Carmody said.
After the game, Hearn showed another step as a leader, taking full responsibility for Usher's big offensive night.
"We watch tape," he said. "We saw this kid is shooting lights out from the 3- point line," he said. "It took me, unfortunately, 30 minutes to figure out that I needed to face guard this kid.
"(Usher) barely needed any space at all. If he went to the bathroom, I needed to go with him."
The Delta Devils had lost their first two games of the season by an average of 39 points, shooting just 33 percent from the field in the process. But they made 47 percent of their 51 shots against the Wildcats and outscored Northwestern 30-24 in the paint.
Much of the Wildcats' woes stemmed from foul trouble. Along with Crawford, Northwestern had four players (Alex Olah, Mike Turner and Alex Marcotullio) with four or more fouls. Turner ended up fouling out with 2:24 remaining, forcing Carmody to rely on his starters for longer than he would have liked, as Hearn, Swopshire and Sobolewski each played 37-plus minutes.
"Guys (were) playing too many minutes. I thought that would be a little different this year," he said.
While Carmody was not satisfied with the amount of minutes his starters played, he could take solace in Swopshire, his highly touted transfer from Louisville, finding his long-range game.
The 6-foot-8 graduate student hit his first three 3-pointers of the game and led Northwestern with 13 points in the first half. Swopshire finished with career-high 22 points and five triples.
"He did a lot in every category, including turnovers. He fills up the stat sheet, this guy," Carmody joked about Swopshire, who had a team-high five turnovers. "There's a calmness about him that I like and I think is good for the team."
Carmody had better hope that Swopshire's calmness under pressure will translate to the school's fan base, which will surely have some worries about the team after Thursday's win.