The Wildcats got off to a quick start in the first half thanks to Drew Crawford. The senior recorded 15 points and 7 rebounds in the first half, helping the Wildcats open up a 29-11 lead with 6:16 left in the half. Eastern Illinois responded with a 13-0 run over the next 4:38 to cut the lead down to three. The Panthers ended up trailing Northwestern by four at the half, even though the Panthers shot 34.5% from the field, missed on all 7 three pointers and were 8 of 17 from the free throw line.
Northwestern "picked up the pace" in the second half, quickly pulling away from Eastern Illinois and opening up a 20 point lead before ending up on top 72-55. I put "picked up the pace" in quotations because the story of the game was fouls, as it seemed like every drive or offensive move drew a whistle.
When everything was said and done, Eastern Illinois shot 38 free throws. The two teams combined for 67 free throws on 49 personal fouls. Luckily for the Wildcats, Eastern Illinois left points off the board as they shot only 55.3% from the line. Even more mind numbing for any Eastern Illinois fans was the fact that the team repeatedly threw up a constant barrage of three pointers. With the refs seemingly calling any form of contact all night, Eastern Illinois was able to get to the line with ease. For whatever reason they ended up settling for 18 three pointers instead even though they only made two of them on the night.
Crawford ended up leading the Wildcats in scoring (25) and rebounds (11) while no other Wildcat reached double digits. The team did see some solid contributions from its other starters with JerShon Cobb adding 8 assists, Alex Olah posting 8 points and 8 rebounds and Sanjay Lumpkin making all three of his three pointers.
Outside of all the fouls called tonight, the Chris Collins era got off to a pretty good start for Northwestern. The team will definitely benefit from the return of Drew Crawford, as well as JerShon Cobb, and there seems to be enough talent here that the Wildcats could compete a bit more than expected this season. The Wildcats will face considerably more difficult challenges than the Panthers throughout the season so they will need to see improvement, but the offense looked relatively fluid and efficient for once.
The Wildcats made shots tonight, hitting 10 of 21 from downtown and 46.5% from the field. Since Collins will likely shy away from the Princeton style offense ran under Carmody, the team will need to continue to shoot better than they have in the past.
Northwestern will face Stanford next on Thursday.