by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)
In Northwestern’s season-opener, Drew Crawford proved why he is the Wildcats’ undisputed team leader, scoring 20 points in the first half and setting the tone early. In Thursday’s 81-68 win over Mississippi Valley State, he got into foul trouble and scored four points in just 16 minutes.
But with its top returning scorer out, NU got a pick-me-up from two other seniors, as Reggie Hearn and Jared Swopshire each finished with 37 minutes, and 23 and 22 points, respectively, to seal the win.
“He’s a good player, Drew, so you want him out there, but he wasn’t able to play, so that’s an opportunity for some other guys,” coach Bill Carmody said.
Hearn and Swopshire combined for nearly half of their team’s shots Thursday night, but Hearn claims that wasn’t by design. The seniors weren’t singled out to make up for Crawford’s lack of scoring on their own.
“We’re not going to go crazy and try to go one-on-one and everything,” Hearn said. “Within the flow of our offense, shots are going to come for everybody, and everybody on the court that we have out there is capable of putting the ball in the hole. I wouldn’t say we (had) emphasis on we really needed to pick up the slack.”
But when things did flow their way, the seniors delivered, and they kept it going throughout the game despite playing so many minutes
Hearn and Swopshire got to this moment in very different ways. Hearn is a former walk-on who only had offers from Division II, Division III and NAIA schools, while Swopshire is a former four-star recruit who played four years at Louisville before transferring to NU for his final season. Yet both are veterans, and both can command the game in tough situations.
This is the first time Swopshire has had to lead an NU team, but he’s had the experience at Louisville, and that experience paid off down the stretch.
“He makes big plays, made some nice passes and there’s a calmness about him that I like and I think that’s good for the team,” Carmody said.
So with his team tied with a clearly inferior opponent in the second half, Swopshire wasn’t fazed.
“We have a veteran backcourt, so I knew that eventually they were going to run out of gas,” he said. “We just kept telling each other to keep pressuring them defensively and keep being aggressive on the offensive end, and we were able to make that run toward the end of the game.”
Hearn was part of the reason for that late run, not only because of his offensive production, but also because of his defense on MVSU star Davon Usher. Usher had 35 points in 39 minutes for the Delta Devils, hitting on 7-of-8 shots from beyond the arc. However, he struggled in the home stretch, due in large part to Hearn’s defense.
“It took me, unfortunately, 30 minutes to figure out that I needed to faceguard this kid and make their other guys do the bulk of the scoring, because I remember looking up at some point in the second half and the kid had over half their points,” Hearn said. “They’re pretty much all on me; that’s not a good feeling. I’ve just got to buckle down, make sure that I know the person that I’m on and know that these guys have got my back if he gets around me.”
But a win is a win, and this time, NU picked up a win without its star. Good teams find someone to step up in the face of adversity, and against MVSU, NU found two such players.
“It’s just time for me to assert myself, I guess, is the only way I can put it,” Hearn said. “I know what to do, I know what Coach Carmody wants me to do, so it’s just about going out there and doing it."
He and Swopshire asserted themselves quite well Thursday night.