EVANSTON, Illinois — It wasn’t pretty at first, but Northwestern men’s basketball is 1-0 and already off to a better start than last year.
After a sluggish first half, the Wildcats (1-0) blew by University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-4) 92-49 in their season opener on Wednesday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena behind double-digit scoring efforts from Chase Audige, Miller Kopp, Pete Nance, Ryan Young and Ty Berry.
Kopp led all scorers with 18 points, and the William & Mary transfer Audige had a standout performance with 16 points and five rebounds in his first game as a Wildcat. NU shot an impressive 51.6% from the field, buoyed by 64.3% shooting in the second half, and connected on nearly half of its three point attempts.
Jalen Lynn led the Golden Lions with 12 points while Markedric Bell and Shaun Doss Jr. added 11 and 10, respectively.
Head coach Chris Collins opted for a unique starting lineup, going with Ryan Greer and Audige at guard and Nance, Kopp and Robbie Beran at forward.
Northwestern looked for Kopp early and often from behind the arc, as the Wildcats’ sharpshooter drained two open threes to give NU an early six-point lead in a clunky opening half of the season. The team’s leading scorer from last season tallied 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting in the first frame.
Audige also flashed his athleticism and scoring ability in the first 20 minutes, adding 11 points, including a stretch in which he went 4-for-4 from the floor, and three boards.
UAPB hung around for the first 10 minutes and actually had a 14-13 advantage after the Golden Lions went on a 7-0 run, capped by a Bell triple.
The scoring briefly opened up a 17-2 NU run, which saw four opportunities on the break and three 3-point field goals — one each from Kopp, Audige, and Greer.
Just as quickly as the ‘Cats found their prowess, however, the offense dried up. They missed their final six shots, taking just a 39-29 lead into the half. Despite shooting just 41% from the field, NU connected on 38% of its attempts from beyond the arc.
Playing its fourth road game against a Power 5 opponent in a week, Arkansas-Pine Bluff looked sloppy after the break. UAPB lost its prior three contests by an average of 31 points.
Northwestern took advantage of the Golden Lions’ poor everything, limiting them to just 20% shooting and starting the half on a 12-2 run, helped by four early turnovers. The ‘Cats, who continued to stroke it well from distance, connected on their first four three-point attempts and went up by 20 on an alley-oop from Boo Buie to Robbie Beran.
The fast break was on throughout the night with NU outscoring the Golden Lions 28-3 in transition.
After a quiet first half, sophomore center Young scored 10 points and hauled in seven rebounds as he found his footing in the paint. Nance also contributed 11 points and seven rebounds, as well as a pair of blocks. Berry, the true freshman, charted 15 points, six rebounds and two blocks, the majority of which came deep in the second half, in his first outing.
NU is set to host Chicago State (0-3) on Saturday at Welsh-Ryan Arena.