by Chris Johnson (@ChrisDJohnsonn)
A back-and-forth thrill ride between Northwestern and Stanford ended in another discouraging loss (70-68) for the Wildcats, their fourth in six games. The Wildcats welcome Brown to Welsh Ryan arena Sunday before opening Big Ten play with a visit from No. 2 Michigan on January 3. Here are three quick thoughts from Friday night’s action.
No Quit In These Wildcats
The natural reaction to losing a player as crucial as Drew Crawford, on top of the already limiting season-long suspension to guard JerShonn Cobb, is to lament your current plight, realize that luck simply isn’t on your side, and say, hey, maybe this just isn’t our year – that next season, when Cobb and Crawford (presuming the NCAA grants his medical redshirt waiver) return along with two highly touted recruits and a more mature roster, is Northwestern’s chance to get over the hump. The Wildcats could sit on their laurels, coast to a mediocre season and chalk up their shortcomings to injury and unfavorable circumstance.
Instead, Northwestern seemed to use its depth atrophy as a galvanizing force. After a 24-2 Stanford run left the Wildcats down 18 midway through the first half, the Wildcats fought back with an 18-0 spurt of their own and went into the break trailing by four. The already depleted roster took another hit in the second half, when leading scorer Reggie Hearn – who had a team-high 18 points and seven rebounds at the time – was forced to the sideline after rolling his ankle. Now without essentially every scoring threat of note save Dave Sobolewski (who finished with just one point on 0-for-6 shooting in undoubtedly his worst game to date), the Wildcats managed to hang around, bided their time, found scoring from unlikely sources and matched the Cardinal blow-for-blow. The final result is discouraging. It does not tell the whole story. Northwestern showed excellent mettle and toughness in a time of adversity. That is a favorable trait to carry going forward.
Welcome To The Party, Tre Demps
Over a six-game span that began with a Nov. 20 win over Delaware State, Tre Demps scored a grand total of four points. That is not a typo. In the last three games, he’s poured in 15, 12 and 12, respectively, showing his aptitude for infusing scoring pop in crucial moments and reviving the Wildcats’ often-dormant offense. Once Hearn was forced to the sideline in the second half, Northwestern was in dire need of a spark on offense. Demps provided exactly that with 12 second-half points, including a crucial three-point jumper to tie the score at 67 with 1:50 left to go.
It’s obvious Demps still has a ways to go before he can be trusted as a high-usage backcourt option. The sophomore guard is equal parts scattershot erraticism and creative athleticism. In other words, Demps – when focused, self-contained, and staying within himself – is a lethal perimeter scorer, but is almost equally prone to wild volatility and mystifying shot selection. There is a clear bad side of Tre Demps, example No. 1 being the air-balled floater he served up in the second half. If Demps can channel all that bouncy quickness and scoring intellect into a cohesive offensive skill set, if he can manage that dichotomy while remaining productive, he can be a huge asset as Northwestern looks to find ways to replace Crawford’s (and potentially Hearn’s) scoring output.
Progress In Camp Olah
The development of Alex Olah has been gradual, inconsistent and sometimes painful. For every positive step the seven-foot big man seemed to make, every progressive stage of his offensive and defensive game, Olah would just as quickly regress. This sort of back-and-forth maturation is nothing unexpected; he’s just a freshman, after all. To wit: Following a complete and well-rounded effort at Baylor, in which he notched 10 points snared six rebounds and recorded six assists, he looked downright overwhelmed against Butler’s Andrew Smith. With Crawford out, the timetable for his offensive progression was no doubt accelerated. Olah responded to Northwestern’s acute need for an interior scoring threat with 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting against the Cardinal. It was, with little doubt, his best game of the season.
Whether Olah can build upon tonight’s performance and continue to grow his offensive repertoire, I can’t say. He’s just as liable to reverting back to the old habits – indecision in the high post, being unassertive on the low block, timid glass-cleaning initiative, and on down the line – we saw earlier in the season. I will say that this is the first time Olah has really attacked the basket with purpose and direction. Too often earlier in the season, you’d see Olah negate his own natural physical advantage by taking awkward angles to the cup, or simply pivoting away from the basket, or failing to establish proper position. He made several tweaks against the Cardinal, most notably his nimble, calculated movements around the hoop. Olah was able to force defenders off-balance with little shoulder shakes and head fakes. Those are positive signs for a freshman forward with plenty of room to grow as the season progresses.