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Northwestern beats Lewis 57-46 in season-opening exhibition

EVANSTON, Ill. -- The Wildcats played their first and only exhibition of the 2013-14 season Wednesday night against Division II Lewis. Here are some quick thoughts about their 57-46 win.

-- As is the case with most teams adjusting to new coaches, execution was far from perfect – particularly on the offensive end, where Northwestern finished with just 57 points on 16-of-45 shooting (35.6). There were some bright spots -- such as JerShon Cobb's coast-to-coast lay-up to close the first half -- but there were even more not-so-bright ones. Tre Demps' seemingly unflinching desire to hoist bad shots is one item worth mentioning. We saw the same, old trigger-happy Demps Wednesday; the sophomore finished 0-for-7 from the field with two points. Point guard Dave Sobolewski converted just one field goal and finished with three points.

-- The Wildcats looked much better on the other side of the ball. After scoring 82 points against Loyola last week, Lewis didn't break 50 Wednesday night. JerShon Cobb played like the active, rangy perimeter defender Wildcats fans remember from two years ago. Redshirt freshman Sanjay Lumpkin backed up coach Chris Collins assertion this week that Lumpkin was Northwestern’s best perimeter defender. And redshirt senior Nikola Cerina, who battled injuries for much of last season, showed he can defend the low post and the perimeter. Because Northwestern has so few reliable options in the front court, Cerina could end up playing a bigger role than most expect this season. The redshirt senior scored just three points -- all free throws -- but grabbed nine rebounds in 22 minutes.

-- True freshman Nate Taphorn impressed in his Wildcats debut, showcasing his touted three-point accuracy by hitting two threes and finishing with 10 points and four rebounds. Taphorn’s performance was encouraging on several fronts, but it remains to be seen whether the 6-7, 190-pound freshman will be able to guard opposing big men – something he may be required to do when Olah and Cerina run into foul trouble.

-- It’s always wise to be cautious before drawing too many conclusions from one exhibition game. This is Lewis, a Division II team that has no business competing with the Wildcats. It’s not Michigan State or Illinois or Purdue or Ohio State. It wasn’t close to perfect -- the Wildcats have plenty of work to do before they face tough nonconference opponents such as Stanford, Missouri and UCLA -- but for the first game of a new head coach’s tenure, things could have gone worse. Northwestern could have given up just as many points to Lewis as Loyola did last week. The Wildcats defended well, and that's probably the biggest, most important takeaway.

-- Northwestern will play its first regular season game Saturday against Eastern Illinois. That one counts.