EVANSTON, Ill. — Talk about a homecoming.
The new-look men’s basketball team opened the season Friday night with a 83-44 win against the McKendree Bearcats as the Wildcats returned to a renovated Welsh-Ryan Arena.
The Wildcats held the Bearcats to just 29 percent shooting and forced 18 turnovers. Vic Law led all scorers with 14 points, and Pete Nance and Ryan Taylor both added 12 more apiece.
It was a true team effort, as ten Wildcats played more than 15 minutes and all ten scored. No NU player topped 24 minutes. In their collegiate debuts, Pete Nance, Miller Kopp, and Ryan Greer combined for 20 points.
Collins gave a lot of Wildcats some burn early on. Ten players saw court time before the under-12 timeout, including three freshmen. Miller Kopp started, which was unexpected. We saw NU push the ball off of McKendree misses early on, which resulted in a Vic Law jumper and an A.J. Turner dunk. The Wildcats flew high in transition, with big dunks from Anthony Gaines and Pete Nance.
NU took a 41-25 lead into the half on the strength of 56.3 percent shooting from the field. Gaines led the way with eight at the break, and Ryan Taylor and A.J. Turner added six apiece.
The Cats went to the same lineup to start the second half, but didn’t sub as quickly. Dererk Pardon was active on both ends early by blocking a shot, running the floor and finishing a thunderous put back dunk. He continued to play at a high level throughout the rest of the half. Pete Nance was active on defense all night, recording four steals and three blocks.
McKendree was never close, but a 24-7 NU run over nearly ten minutes of game time in the second half put the game out of hand.
- It was easy to see from the beginning that Collins wants to play faster. The Cats had 21 fast break points and looked to push the pace off both makes and misses.
- Collins has adapted his offense in order to make up for a lack of a true (read: B-Mac) point guard. Multiple players brought the ball up the floor, and half court sets featured a lot of cutting and off ball screens. Collins played two different groups of five players for most of the game — Jordan Ash, A.J. Turner, Vic Law, Anthony Gaines, and Ryan Greer brought the ball up the court at times for NU.
- Defensively, the team was solid. Good on-ball defense forced McKendree into lots of contested looks late in the shot clock. Part of that is the fact that NU was playing McKendree, but the defensive intensity was high for most of the game. NU also forced 18 Bearcat turnovers.
- A.J. Turner looked like one of the best players on the court at times. His length bothered opposing ball-handlers, and the redshirt junior showed the ability to score as well as distribute with six assists.
- Anthony Gaines showed improved playmaking ability. He played a solid game, finishing with 10 points to include multiple rim-rattling dunks. He could be the solution to the point guard problem if he continues to make plays the way he did tonight.
- NU’s next home game is scheduled for Thursday against New Orleans, the team’s season-opener.