by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)
In Northwestern’s first game without star forward Drew Crawford, coach Bill Carmody wasn’t quite sure what to expect. He got a lot of good, but also a lot of bad en route to a 74-68 win over Texas State, but that’s to be expected with such a young team.
“We’ve been trying for a couple days to have different lineups, but you never really know until you get them out there,” Carmody said.
But in college basketball, a win is a win, and for NU, anything in the win column with so many freshmen is a good thing. Of course, needing a 12-0 run to end the game to beat Texas State isn’t ideal, but it’s a lot better than the alternative — a loss.
“I was telling Reggie (Hearn) sitting in the room over there, that’s one of those games that could have gone either way,” point guard Dave Sobolewski said, “and we made some big defensive plays and some hustle plays, and made a couple of shots down the stretch, so that was just a huge win for us moving forward.”
NU started freshman Kale Abrahamson in place of Crawford, and also worked in Sanjay Lumpkin and Tre Demps. Those three, in addition to starting center Alex Olah, all showed signs of promise, but there were inevitable freshman moments. Carmody had brief evaluations of each of them.
Abrahamson: “Kale did fine out there, we’ve just got to keep giving him time and he’s going to keep getting better and better, that guy.”
Lumpkin: “Sanjay, I didn’t give him much time tonight — I sort of had him in and out a bit — but he’s going to be pretty good. When I had him taken out, it was mostly because of matchup situations.”
Demps, who looked far better today but left with an ankle injury: “I thought Tre was looking pretty good out there, and then turns his ankle.”
Olah: “You see the youth when we come out of a timeout and Alex takes a 15-foot shot in three seconds when we had something else planned, but he’ll learn and he’ll get better.”
“Learn and get better.” That’s been Carmody’s mantra with his freshmen throughout the season. But without Crawford, NU needs them to grow up fast.
“The freshmen are still kind of trying to figure things out a little bit,” Sobolewski said. “There’s a difference between when there’s some freshmen in there and when there’s only older guys in there. Obviously it’s great for them that they’re getting these minutes, because soon enough, you won’t be able to tell the difference.”
How soon, though? The Wildcats can get away with games like this against Texas State, but not against Stanford on Friday or during a daunting Big Ten slate. It’s tough to expect just one freshmen to come in and be a star, let alone three or four of them.
With Crawford out, the entire team is going to need to step up, from the freshmen to the veterans. Carmody said that NU is going to miss Crawford’s scoring ability the most, and in that respect, the Wildcats can’t just rely on a couple players to make up for Crawford’s absence.
“I think everybody has to score more. I think Coach Carmody said 1,400 points over his career, this year he was averaging 14 a game,” Hearn said. “I’m personally not going to start averaging 14 more points per game, so everybody has to step up. I think you saw Dave do that tonight — he had 18. I think you’ll see guys up and try to fill that scoring void.”
While this NU team does have the ability to replace Crawford’s scoring on the aggregate, Carmody is still looking for someone who can take over a game like Crawford could, and he’s looking for his freshman class to step up.
“I would say he’s capable of getting 25 in a game,” Carmody said of Crawford. “We beat Baylor down there and he hit two major jump shots that maybe Kale can, too. We’ve got a lot of freshmen out there. They’re just inexperienced, but I think they’re good.”
As the season progresses, we’ll see less of the “inexperienced” side and more of the “good” side, but the question nobody can answer right now is how fast NU’s freshmen will move down that line. Monday night, the Wildcats weren’t good, but they were good enough. And in the end, that’s all that really matters.