Northwestern men’s basketball unofficially opened its season on Friday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena by comfortably handling Division II school UI-Springfield 89-52 in a thoroughly lopsided scrimmage.
Freshman Isiah Brown starred off the bench for the Wildcats with 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting in 23 minutes, while starting backcourt mates Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey helped lead the charge, combining for 24 points and asserting their influence on the game in all facets. The display put on by the big men was also encouraging, with Dererk Pardon and Gavin Skelly sharing the majority of minutes at the center position and scoring and rebounding effectively down low.
Sophomore forward Vic Law, inserted into the starting line-up in his return from a shoulder injury that cost him his season last year, was underwhelming but showed flashes of recapturing the promise that he showed at the end of his freshman season. Despite a clear emphasis from Chris Collins and the coaching staff to get him involved in the offense through a series of early post-ups, Law never looked comfortable with the ball in his hands, missing a number of hesitant open jump-shots and disrupting the flow of the offense on many occasions in the first half. He did manage to settle in the second half, however, hitting a couple of three-pointers and a mid-range jumper to go along with a first half breakaway dunk.
After much speculation as to who his starting group would consist of, Collins opted to go with Law and captain Sanjay Lumpkin at the forward spots along with Pardon at center and McIntosh and Lindsey in the backcourt. A sluggish start to the game, featuring a couple of Northwestern turnovers and defensive breakdowns on the interior, allowed the Prairie Stars to jump out to a 6-2 lead after three minutes of action. The Wildcats managed to right the ship quickly, however, going on a 20-2 run over the next five minutes. Lumpkin drew one of his patented charges on a slashing UIS guard to energize the team, and from there Northwestern was able to speed up its attack and surge into a comfortable lead. McIntosh and Lindsey successfully attacked the rim, with both guards getting to the line and finishing in the paint on multiple occasions, and Aaron Falzon and Brown were both able to find their stroke in transition off the bench. As the half went on, the Wildcats continued to dominate. Brown and Skelly were productive off the bench offensively, with Skelly grabbing three buckets on post-ups and tip-ins and Brown pouring in nine points on three-of-three shooting. Pardon did well for himself down low as well, running the floor well, protecting the rim, and contributing eight points in the paint in 15 first-half minutes. A buzzer-beating three-pointer from Nathan Taphorn sent the team into the break in total control with a commanding 53-27 lead to show for it.
With the result of the game virtually a forgone conclusion heading into the second half, proceedings got considerably more sloppy and the flow of the action was severely fractured by persistent foul calls on both teams. Brown continued to lead the offense, stroking three more pull-up jumpers and getting to the rim at will. McIntosh, along with Law, played extended second half minutes, and their steady playmaking and scoring saw the Wildcats over the finish line.
While Brown shined in his debut in extended minutes, the other Wildcat freshman, center Barrett Benson struggled in his 15 minutes of action. Many expect the highly-touted recruit from Hinsdale, Il. to compete with Pardon for minutes at the center position, but he only saw two nondescript minutes of first half action, coming off the bench behind the energetic Skelly. While his floor time increased in the second half and he did flash his ability as an effective paint presence defensively, he struggled on offense in the post and looked sluggish moving his feet getting up and down the floor and defending the pick-and-roll.
Additionally, Sophomore point guard Jordan Ash saw twelve minutes of action in McIntosh’s stead, but struggled to take care of the ball and lead the team with 3 turnovers. On the wings, Falzon and Taphorn both reminded fans of their ability to stretch the defense, but also showed that some of the problems that plagued them on the defensive end last season had not yet been sorted out.
Northwestern opens its regular season on Nov. 11 against Mississippi Valley State.