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Northwestern-Mississippi Valley State Final Score, Recap: Wildcats defeat MVSU, 78-48

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David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern defeated Mississippi Valley State 78-48 despite a sloppy home performance. Alex Olah led Northwestern with 21 points and 11 rebounds as Northwestern got out to an early lead and unsurprisingly led for the entire contest. While Northwestern pulled away in the second half as MVSU tired, the team did not look as good as it did against Chicago State over weekend.

Mississippi Valley State kept the game close at the outset, but Northwestern was up by double-digits with 8:42 left in the first half. Olah was unstoppable in the opening minutes and had 16 points on six shots in the first half. However, Northwestern was uncharacteristically cold from three and the bench unit had several bad turnovers that allowed MVSU to bring the lead down to seven late in the period. While the team shot poorly, for once the team did not need elite jumpshooting to build a lead. The Wildcats’ first-half performance was not ideal, but the team still managed to hold a ten-point lead heading into the second half.

In the second half, Northwestern finally pulled away with about 15 minutes remaining. Northwestern looked much better offensively and defensively in the second half as MVSU failed to keep up its first-half effort. Ultimately, Northwestern pulled away for a win that was never really in doubt.

Olah destroyed MVSU’s smaller lineup and looked good in the paint. Bryant McIntosh and Tre Demps only shot a combined 36 percent from the field, but Olah’s offensive brilliance saved Northwestern in the first half. Northwestern’s outside shooting was brutal, and they only shot 25 percent from three. When subtracting Olah’s numbers, Northwestern’s other players shot just 36.7 percent from the field. Luckily, in the second half, Northwestern’s usual ball movement and shot selection on offense returned and they scored a flurry of points that put the game out of reach. The Delta Devils defense was unable to organize against Northwestern’s passing and off-the-ball movement.

On the other end, the Wildcats were unable to repeat their suffocating defensive performance against Chicago State, and the team had brief stretches where MVSU was able to push the pace and score with ease. But the Delta Devils shot a horrendous 29 percent from the field and badly missed a bevy of shots. Northwestern’s defense continues to be a work in progress and we shall see how they perform in Northwestern’s next game against DePaul.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

1. The bench lineup looked shaky without van Zegeren

Northwestern’s secondary lineup without McIntosh and Olah looked discombobulated during the three-minute stretch it was on the court. Mississippi Valley State was able to cut the lead down to seven points during this stretch, and Northwestern looked inept on offense and defense. Northwestern turned the ball over repeatedly, and MVSU were able to respond with some easy layups and open jumpers.

The team also felt the loss of Joey van Zegeren for the first time. Without Olah on the floor, Northwestern looked eerily reminiscent of last year’s team. The bench lineup relied on Gavin Skelly at center, and the lack of rim protection led to some easy baskets for the Delta Devils. Northwestern has to have its backup center back on the floor in order to avoid what happened last season. van Zegeren may not be a great offensive player, but he is a better defensive presence than Skelly and his offense is playable.

2. Alex Olah, please keep dominating in the paint

Olah was unstoppable against MVSU. Olah working well in the paint combined with a hot night from Northwestern’s guards can turn this already decent offense into a devastating unit. Olah’s low post game and cuts to the basket were fantastic tonight. The problem is that Olah has only been able to do this against teams without any size. Hopefully Olah builds on this performance and heads into Big Ten play with a newfound focus on offense.

3. Nate Taphorn had three blocks?

Nate Taphorn has been criticized for his defense this season, but he came up with three blocks and looked better against MVSU. Okay, to be honest, there weren’t very many important takeaways from this game. Northwestern started off badly on offense, but they were never going to lose to MVSU. It’s hard to arrive at any good conclusions when Northwestern plays such a terrible non-conference schedule. Frankly, this is not a good way to build a tournament resume, and the frequent have gotten completely disinteresting for casual and diehard fans.