By Kevin Sweeney
There were a few more nervy moments than Chris Collins and the Northwestern men’s basketball team wanted to deal with Monday night. After all, the Wildcats were taking on an American University team that had won just six games last season.
While it certainly wasn’t the prettiest game, Northwestern found a way to pull away late to claim a 63-51 victory, moving to 2-0 on the young season over a pesky Eagles squad.
“We got caught in a grinder,” Collins said. “At the end of the season, no one is going to ask us how pretty or ugly the game was against American. Did you win or did you lose?”
The Wildcats shot the ball poorly for the second consecutive game, shooting just 36% from the field and 4-22 from deep. But Collins was able to rely on his senior stars in Vic Law and Dererk Pardon, each of whom had huge games to help quell the upset bid. Law was especially dominant, posting 26 points and 6 rebounds while drawing a game-high 8 fouls against American defenders. He was also impactful on defense, splitting time guarding Patriot League preseason Player of the Year Sa’eed Nelson and wing scorer Sam Iorio.
“He came out early and set the tone for us,” Collins said of Law, who scored Northwestern’s first nine points in the contest. Collins called Law’s effort a “complete game”, something the 6’7″ senior had struggled to do over the first three seasons of his career due to conditioning issues. Law had offseason surgery to reconstruct his diaphragm, correcting a genetic condition that had made it difficult for him to stay on the court for huge portions of the game.
After carrying a seven-point lead into halftime despite trailing most of the way, Northwestern set the tone with its defense in the second half. The ‘Cats conceded just 20 points in the final period, and held American to just six in the final 11 minutes and one second of action after the Eagles had briefly tied the score at 45. Nelson was stymied for much of the day, posting 10 points on 3-14 shooting while turning it over seven times.
With the three-point shot not falling, Northwestern made a concerted effort to feed Pardon in the post in the second half. The big man went 4-9 from the field in the second half after shooting just 1-5 in the first, accumulating 13 points and 18 rebounds in the contest.
“We have to feed the monster,” Law said of his running mate, while Pardon joked that he has to shoot better than “two percent” but that he expected the shots would start to fall soon.
While the two seniors show up as the stars in the stat sheet, freshman guard Ryan Greer also made an impact, especially in the second half. Greer only scored two points, but the reclassified 2019 recruit played most of the second half and led the team in +/- with a +18, acting as the glue that held the Wildcats together.
“He came in, did his job, gave us good minutes,” Law said. “He didn’t score a ton, but he guarded really well, he ran the offense, and as a freshman coming into a close game, that’s kind of hard to ask sometimes.”
Collins called the freshman’s performance “huge,” noting how pleased he was with Greer’s ability to come in and play important minutes after playing just three minutes in the team’s season opener against New Orleans on Thursday.
Mark Gasperini led the way for American with 17 points. The Eagles fall to 1-1 on the season after opening the year with a surprising road win at Atlantic Ten contender George Mason.
Northwestern wraps up its three-game season-opening homestand Friday night against Binghamton at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Alex Campbell and Eric Rynston-Lobel will have the call on WNUR Sports.