In their regular season opener, the Northwestern Wildcats took down the Eastern Illinois Panthers 80-56. The ‘Cats were favored by 23 points and put out a well-rounded scoring performance. Junior guard Boo Buie led the way with 17 points as well as five steals, while senior center Pete Nance and sophomore guard Ty Berry both ended with 13 points. Here are three takeaways from Tuesday’s opening night win.
The freshmen need time to develop
In their first two collegiate games, freshmen Julian Roper II and Casey Simmons have played significant minutes for Northwestern, but have struggled to translate this time into positive results. Against Lindenwood, the duo played a combined 34 minutes but only converted this into five points, all from Roper II. Now matched up against Eastern Illinois, the duo shot a combined 3-14 from the floor and 1-5 from beyond the arc. Roper II did perform well defensively, with four rebounds, three steals and a block. In terms of scoring, though, there has not been much production against two lower-tier opponents.
Two years ago, Boo Buie and Miller Kopp played crucial roles in the Wildcats’ season as freshmen. Kopp averaged a team-best 13.1 points per game and Buie put up 10.3 points per game. Last season, Ty Berry showed efficient shooting early on in his freshmen campaign that had ‘Cats fans excited for what the guard could become. Only time will tell how Roper II and Simmons will adjust to Division I basketball, but fans need to make sure to be patient in watching their development early on.
Elyjah Williams is going to be very valuable off the bench
Northwestern fans expected Williams to be a solid role player for the ‘Cats this season, but his all-around productive performance against the Panthers showed fans he could be one of Northwestern’s most valuable players. For Fairleigh Dickinson in 2020, Williams averaged 13.9 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per game while shooting 42.0% from beyond the arc. His numbers showed he could do it all, and that was represented in his play on Tuesday.
In 16 minutes off of the bench, Williams shot 4-of-8 from the field for nine points and picked up four more rebounds along the way. Front court depth was a question for Northwestern coming into the season, but Williams’ performances thus far have silenced doubters. Paired with this was smart passing and solid defense, the transfer showed Northwestern fans that he is going to be a piece of stability on a roster that has been anything but.
Ty Berry is going to be a significant piece for the offense
The coaching staff raved about Berry all throughout the offseason, citing his production as a freshman last season and offseason work as the reason for a breakout season. Berry put up 17 points alongside three steals in their opening contest against Lindenwood, which both led the team. Against Eastern Illinois, he put up 13 points and shot 2-of-5 from three to go with six rebounds. Both were strong performances, and are giving ‘Cats fans a taste of Berry’s potential to break out this season.
Without the presence of a distinguished starting small forward, Northwestern will end up deploying many three-guard lineups. Whether this be from Chase Audige, Berry, Boo Buie, Casey Simmons or Julian Roper II, there is going to be plenty of opportunities for guards such as Berry to put up a high volume number of shots and high scoring totals.