By Alex Lederman
Well into the second half, it looked like Northwestern fans craving a blowout against winless Mississippi Valley State would be disappointed—the Wildcats only led by 10. But down the stretch, NU handled the Delta Devils easily and came with a 78-48 victory.
Still, it wasn’t always pretty for the Cats. Even if the 30-point win looks impressive on paper, it came against a Mississippi Valley State team that fell to Nebraska by more than 45, Evansville by 35 and Tennessee Tech by almost 50. They’re ranked in the bottom 5 nationally in KenPom rankings.
Although coach Chris Collins said he’s happy with the win, he admitted his team played sloppily.
“These two games coming off of final exams, there’s going to be some rust,” Collins said.
Still, there were positives for the Cats—particularly down low. As by far the biggest guy on the court, 7’0” senior Alex Olah picked up 21 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.
“Alex certainly was a story and should have been,” Collins said. “But that hasn’t always been the case with the undersized teams. He was really a force down there.”
Collins said after Sunday’s win over Chicago State, in which the team had 15 threes, he showed the team the tape of all the times they could have passed to Olah in the paint.
“Because of that, though,” he said, “our guys are such good guys they then got away from shooting the ball. It was like ‘Now that we’re going to feed Alex we’re not going to take our shots.’ And I thought that that took away our rhythm shooting threes.”
NU only made only seven three-pointers in 28 attempts—and four of those came from freshman Aaron Falzon.
But in the midst of Olah’s strong showing, the center lost a piece of his front tooth. Collins said he looked like one of the Hanson brothers from Slap Shot.
“He’ll get it fixed, but it looks pretty funny right now,” sophomore Bryant McIntosh said. “We’re just right now trying to make him smile every time we can in the locker room. It’s really fun.”
Outside of Olah, three other NU players also scored double-digit points—Tre Demps, McIntosh and Falzon—and Sanjay Lumpkin, Scottie Lindsey and Falzon grabbed eight, seven and six boards, respectively.
But the game was far from a walk in the park. It was only late in the game that the Cats finally started pulling away, picking up their first 20-point lead with just over seven minutes left to play. Against a team as bad as Mississippi Valley State, Northwestern shouldn’t have taken as long as they did to pull away. Northwestern turned it over plenty, and the ice cold shooting from downtown is a concern too.
With the non-conference season winding down, NU begins Big Ten play in two weeks. But first, the Cats take a short trip downtown Saturday to take on DePaul –the toughest game remaining on their non-conference schedule.
“We have to get better,” Collins said. “We’re far from a finished product, and if we want to be successful in our conference, we’re going to have to play better.”