With a lot of uncertainty hovering over the oncoming season, the Wildcats began their 2022-23 season with a dominant win.
Northwestern opened the year’s play with an expected, yet welcome 85-54 win against Chicago State at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Coming off an offseason in which the team’s leading contributors from 2021 either transferred or graduated, a strong performance, even against an unimpressive Cougars team, was certainly a confidence-booster for Chris Collins and his squad.
The ‘Cats were led by Robbie Beran, who dropped 20 points, seven rebounds and a pair of assists in 32 minutes of action. Boo Buie, Chase Audige and Ty Berry also broke the double-digit threshold for points.
On the other sideline, point guard Elijah Weaver spearheaded the attack with 17 points, going 5-of-8 from three-point land. Wesley Cardet scored 11 in a 3-of-16 outing that included four turnovers and four fouls.
Chicago State took the tip, but was unable to do anything with it for the next seven minutes. Aside from corralling five offensive rebounds in the first five minutes, CSU’s offense was uninspiring to start the game. Northwestern wasn’t much more efficient, as the ‘Cats started 2-of-6 from the field, with buckets courtesy of Buie and Berry.
Neither squad was particularly inspiring from beyond the arc, chucking up 12 shots between the both of them and hitting on just two in the game’s first eight minutes. What did succeed was each team’s paint work. Northwestern absorbed fouls and a physical CSU defense early to earn eight of its first 11 points from the charity stripe or closer. Meanwhile, the Cougars kept the ‘Cats working for defensive boards, following up on virtually every one of their own attempts.
CSU started to turn it on around the 10-minute mark, going on a 7-0 run to cut their deficit to one. How did Northwestern answer? Ty Berry. Back-to-back threes from the junior jumpstarted the Wildcat offense, as Northwestern was able to extend its lead back out to 10 with five minutes left in the half.
Berry’s barrage was followed by a Buie layup. Then, he and Beran scored the team’s next six points — all by way of free throws.
In the midst of the ‘Cats’ scoring resurgence, the defense stepped up too. Sandwiched between those buckets were a Wesley Cardet turnover, a Jahsean Corbett turnover, an Arol Kacuol turnover and another Cardet throwaway.
Physicality was the driving force for most of the first half. Corbett, CSU’s leading scorer through the first half, was one of many players on his team to hit the floor as a consequence of unsuccessful attempts at intercepting NU’s risky passes. On the other end, Northwestern’s resident big man, Beran, hustled his way to the foul line, cashing in on his first seven free throws. Matthew Nicholson also added a few nice dunks to top it off.
Chris Collins called for a full-court press to close out the half. CSU had little issue breaking the defense and leading a scrambling NU defense into some poor decisions. In trying to get back on defense, Luke Hunger fouled Cardet on a missed triple, which the Cougars’ forward made up for by hitting all three of his free throws.
Northwestern entered the half up 16. Northwestern shot 12-of-26 from the field, while Chicago State went 7-of-33 shooting in the period.
Audige led the way to start the second half. First, he hit a smooth-sailing three off a Beran offensive rebound. Then, he pick-pocketed a CSU guard, dumping the ball off to Buie in transition, who hit the layup and the accompanying and-one foul shot.
Chicago State started the second half similar to how it opened the game — with a lot of fouls. Three and a half minutes into the second half, Cardet, Corbett, Kacoul and Brent Davis had notched six fouls. The early penalties put Northwestern in the bonus with 15:43 left in the contest.
Buie was energized all night, and used his electricity to take a defensive rebound down the court before passing it off to Audige, who went up for a slam while getting fouled by Corbett. Audige widened the margin, 50-25.
Even as the lead grew, Northwestern didn’t let up in its aggressiveness around the hoop. Nicholson jammed a Beran-assisted ball with 12:35 to go in the game, extending the lead to almost 30 points.
If they hadn’t already, the Cougars went all-in with their three-point attempts in the back end of the second half. The squad scored three straight from beyond the arc to make a dent in the deficit. Northwestern had answers at every challenge, though. Brooks Barnhizer, Beran, Berry and Buie each nailed one, helping NU keep CSU at arm’s length.
The Wildcats took their largest lead of the night off a difficult Audige three, which featured a pump-fake, a foul and a made free-throw. Northwestern increased CSU’s deficit to 33 with 4:37 to go.
The Cougars closed out the game with spirit. A put-back dunk by Faheim Meran with 3:57 left invigorated Chicago State’s bench...maybe a little too much. Head coach Gerald Gillion earned the team its second technical foul of the night after he chirped what apparently was one too many times at the stripes. CSU finished strong, but it wasn’t enough to make a difference as the Wildcats came out on top in the opener, 85-54.
Northwestern will take on Northern Illinois to try to build its first winning streak of the season on Friday at 7 p.m.