Year eight of the Chris Collins era tipped off tonight with Northwestern (1-0) defeating the opponent Collins first faced back at the start of his Northwestern tenure, Eastern Illinois (0-1), winning tonight’s game by the comfortable score of 80-56. The victory improved Collins’ record in his first game of the season at NU to 7-1, with the lone loss coming to Merrimack two seasons ago.
In the double-digit win, Boo Buie, Pete Nance and Ty Berry led the way by scoring 17, 13 and 13 points for the Wildcats, respectively. As a team, Northwestern performed well defensively by holding EIU to 37% from the field while also grabbing 16 steals, with Robbie Beran and Buie each securing five of those.
Despite the stadium being filled to roughly 10% capacity and the Wildcats falling behind 5-0 in the opening minutes of the game, NU clawed its way back to enter the first media timeout leading Eastern Illinois 8-7. The Wildcats did not trail at any point the rest of the way.
Ty Berry helped break things open out of the timeout by hitting an and-one three pointer. True freshman Julian Roper then followed Berry by hitting a three pointer for his first ever NU bucket to punctuate a 12-0 Wildcat run over the course of three and a half minutes. The ‘Cats continued their solid play during the next few minutes and went into the under-12 media timeout leading 21-12.
Another 6-0 NU run forced the Panthers to burn a timeout, as that spurt put the Wildcats ahead 27-12 midway through the first half. Despite Northwestern’s hot stretch, Eastern Illinois managed to stop the bleeding and cut the Wildcats’ lead to 32-20 with just under six minutes remaining in the first half. The two teams continued to trade baskets, primarily due to sloppy play on Northwestern’s end, and the ‘Cats entered the final media timeout of the half leading 34-22. The back-and-forth play only continued from there and Northwestern went into halftime with a 40-29 lead.
To start the second half, Eastern Illinois briefly cut the Wildcats’ lead to nine points before an 8-0 run from the home team expanded NU’s lead to 17 points, spearheaded by threes from Nance and Berry.
Northwestern, with the help of five consecutive points from Elyjah Williams, then ballooned its lead to 21 points with 13 minutes remaining in the game, fully taking control of the action inside Welsh-Ryan Arena. Williams chipped in another layup just a few possessions later and Northwestern held a 59-39 lead at the under-12 media break.
Eastern Illinois did not quit, however, as the Panthers chipped into Northwestern’s lead with multiple threes from Rufino Bolis, who finished the game as Eastern Illinois’s second-leading scorer. All in all, the visiting team trailed by just 16 with six and a half minutes remaining in the game, as the ‘Cats held a 64-48 advantage.
Chris Collins’ squad clinched the game over the next few minutes, though, as Buie hit three free throws and Robbie Beran knocked down a three pointer to extend NU’s lead to 22 points with just over four minutes remaining. NU ultimately won the game 80-56 in comfortable fashion.
The Wildcats will return to Welsh-Ryan Arena on Friday to take on High Point in their second game of the season.