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Kale Abrahamson sparks second-half comeback in loss to Illinois State

EVANSTON, Ill. — After Northwestern’s 11-point win over Lewis in its season-opening exhibition game, Kale Abrahamson wasn’t happy.

The sophomore forward worked hard in the offseason, adding about 20 pounds to his skinny six-foot-seven frame. But in the week leading up the season, head coach Chris Collins didn’t mention Abrahamson as a competitor for a starting forward spot. Two freshmen, Sanjay Lumpkin and Nathan Taphorn appeared to jump over Abrahamson on the depth chart.

And after just three minutes of playing time against Lewis (Lumpkin played 31 and Taphorn played 23) Abrahamson went to speak with his first-year head coach.

“I had a meeting with Collins and just obviously told him I wanted to play more and that I was unhappy,” Abrahamson said. “I think I heard him say that he would be unhappy if I wasn’t unhappy for not playing. I was happy to hear that and that he understands my position… We kind of had a heart-to-heart, kind of just let it all out. He’s not much for messing around a topic he really just wants you to get to the point and tell him what you think and just be a man about it.”

In the next two games against Eastern Illinois and Stanford, Abrahamson only played eight minutes combined.

But Sunday night against Illinois State, Northwestern struggled to get anything going. Down 19 at one point in the second half, Collins brought in Abrahamson to anchor a small-ball lineup with no true interior presence on the floor.

Abrahamson scored eight points in 17 minutes, playing the final 14 of the second half as Northwestern’s comeback eventually fell short in a 68-64 loss to the Redbirds.

“I’m proud of [Abrahamson] because he played a lot last year, especially down the stretch,” Collins said. “Look, I’m glad he was mad that he wasn’t playing. I told him that. I don’t want players who aren’t playing to be unhappy about it. But he kept a great attitude. I told him to be ready.”

Last season as a part of the Princeton offense that Bill Carmody ran, Abrahamson was viewed more as a shooter. Against Illinois State, though, Abrahamson looked to be more aggressive off the dribble, a luxury afforded in part from Collins’ more free-flowing offensive scheme.

“I’ve kind of been doing some soul-searching as I’ve not been playing,” Abrahamson said. “I think I’ve kind of gotten away from who I am as a player to be honest. Throughout my basketball life, I haven’t been a standstill shooter. If you would have seen me in high school or AAU or pretty much any time I wasn’t here, you never would have thought I was just a stand-in-the-corner shooter. I can do other stuff. I just really wanted to be aggressive in every way possible and score like I can… It’s kind of something that I’ve done to myself. I’ve kind of let just other peoples’ opinions or what they think I can do affect how I’ve been playing.”

Moving forward, Collins implied that Abrahamson would probably be given more opportunities and minutes.

“When he was called on, he was [ready],” Collins said. “Usually that means you play more. I’ve been around the game a little bit. Usually when you’re ready when called on and you play like that, that means the coach is going to play you a little more.”