As has been the norm so far this season for Northwestern, the Wildcats started out slow in the noon start in Piscataway, New Jersey. Often battling from behind in the first 10 minutes of the Big Ten opener against Rutgers, the Wildcats turned a 17-5 run over the last 10 minutes of the second half into a plus-16-point stretch from about the 10-minute mark in the first half to the 10-minute mark in the second half.
JerShon Cobb, in his first game back after missing the previous five nursing a foot injury, provided the initial spark for the decisive stretch, hitting a three-pointer to put Northwestern within four midway through the first half. The lineup featuring Cobb along with Bryant McIntosh, Tre Demps, Sanjay Lumpkin and Alex Olah rectified Northwestern's early scoring issues and also held Rutgers to shooting almost exclusively outside jumpers.
But Northwestern wasn't able to sustain its offensive output throughout the second half. The Wildcats went about 10 minutes in the second half without making a field goal, allowing Rutgers to cut Northwestern's lead to just three with about a minute-and-a-half left in the game.
The Wildcats, though, were able to hold off Rutgers to pick up a solid conference-opening road win by a score of 51-47.
Most of Northwestern's damage came without freshman forward Vic Law. Law, who started the game, played 10 first-half minutes without scoring, missing two contested jumpshots and grabbing three rebounds. For the second-straight game, Law didn't start the second half, with Cobb taking his place. Law spent a good portion of the second half seated at the end of the bench next to the team's athletic trainer and Northwestern posted on Twitter that Law had been struggling with an illness.
McIntosh and Demps led the scoring punch for Northwestern with 17 and 16 points, respectively. Cobb also played well in his role off the bench, scoring six points.
Chris Collins shortened up his rotation, maybe giving a peak into playing time breakdowns that could be used throughout the Big Ten season. McIntosh, Demps and Lumpkin all played 37 minutes. Olah played 32 minutes and Cobb played 23, a really good sign. Other than those five, Lindsey and Law played 11 and 10 minutes respectively but didn't contribute much. Dave Sobolewski, Nate Taphorn, Jeremiah Kreisberg and Gavin Skelly also saw minimal action.
WHAT'S NEXT: Northwestern now sits at 10-4 and 1-0 in the Big Ten, locking up first place in the conference, at least until top-five Wisconsin comes to Evanston on Jan. 4.