With its first opportunity this year to exorcise its close-game, final-possession demons from last season, NU had the ball with 9.7 seconds left in regulation, tied 55-55 against Illinois State in the championship game of the South Padre Island Invitational. The possession, designed or not, involved Dave Sobolewski dribbling around somewhat aimlessly, before launching up a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer that missed.
So, NU blew a chance to show that it's able to handle the tight pressure of a last-second situation. But the Wildcats and Sobolewski made up for it in OT in a big way. Sobo scored NU's first points of the extra period with a big three-pointer, then hit another big basket with 1:44 left. For good measure, he added four free throws late to help ice the game, as NU pulled out the championship win over the pesky Redbirds, 72-69.
For much of the game, NU seemed flummoxed by the Redbirds' pressure defense and interior athleticism, struggling to find open looks and blowing shot after shot in the paint. But the Wildcats were able to keep the game close thanks in part to Illinois State's questionable shooting and turnover issues. Bill Carmody decided to break open the 1-3-1 defense for, I believe, the first time this season, with about 6 minutes left to go in the game, and the Redbirds had all kinds of fits trying to figure it out.
NU shot an ugly 33.9% from the field for the game. Drew Crawford led the way for the Wildcats with 20 points and 9 rebounds, while Jared Swopshire had a double double with 15 points and 10 boards. Sobolewski had 16 points, and Reggie Hearn had 12 points and 6 boards. Mike Turner played the bulk of the game at center, chipping in 2 points, 4 assists, and, most importantly, 10 rebounds, in place of a largely ineffective Alex Olah.
So, NU improves to 5-0 on the season and notches its first win over a respectable team. The schedule will continue to get a lot tougher, beginning with Tuesday's game at home in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge against Maryland.