Prior to the game, it was easy to see size would be an issue for Delaware State, but it wasn’t that way early on. After struggles from Northwestern's freshman center Alex Olah, the game morphed into a fast-pace shoot out – and Northwestern was sharp.
Three-pointers started to fall for Northwestern like trees during a hurricane. The ‘Cats shot a ridiculous 63.6 percent from downtown in the first half and finished the game 12-21 from three-point range.
While the ‘Cats showed signs of collapse midway through the second half, size caught up with Delaware State as Northwestern continued to haul down rebounds, limiting the Hornets' second-chance opportunities. Northwestern’s lights-out shooting and excellent ball distribution helped guide the team to a convincing 69-50 victory at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Northwestern shot well early and often from three-point range. Dave Sobolewski and Drew Crawford were composed at long range, shooting a combined 8-12. Neither player hesitated, and both did an excellent job of nailing threes on open looks as well as with a hand in their face.
Coach Bill Carmody commented on sophomore point guard Dave Sobolewski as someone who “comes through in the clutch. He’s a competitor.”
It’s no secret Northwestern is neither the best-shooting nor the most talented team in the Big Ten, but if the ‘Cats continue their sniper-like accuracy from behind the arc, the Big Ten should be on the lookout for Northwestern as a real threat.
Sharing the ball
Carmody’s offense came into the game averaging a NCAA-best 24.3 assists per game, and distribution continued to be a focal point for the 'Cats. Four players recorded four assists each, but numbers could have been a lot higher – the ‘Cats missed five or six uncontested layups.
Dave Sobolewski looked like a veteran point guard, leading the offense exceptionally well. The sophomore kept the up-tempo offense going with quick fast break and outlet passes. While Northwestern might not lead the country in assists down the road, the team's selfless play thus far has been encouraging to Northwestern fans.
Everybody – not just 7-foot Olah – snagged rebounds. Four different players had five or more rebounds. In total, the ‘Cats out-rebounded Delaware State 32-19 and grabbed an impressive 10 offensive rebounds.
The Wildcat defense looked like a fifth grade AAU team in the first half. Players were getting caught in the air, and while defenders did an excellent job at getting a body on Hornets players, Northwestern kept committing ill-advised fouls. Free throw opportunities were the main reason Delaware was able to stay in the game during the early first half.
It’s the first thing teams practice before games for a reason: layups are the easiest shots in basketball, and it is imperative that they are made when the opportunity presents itself.
Players, especially Dave Sobolewski and Alex Olah, botched an inexplicable amount of gimmies. The ‘Cats were lucky for two reasons today: they played a mediocre team in Delaware State and they shot phenomenally from behind the arc.
Those missed points are going to come back to bite the ‘Cats in future games. Northwestern cannot be expected to shoot threes so well this consistently. A couple of missed layups could mean the difference between first-time tournament glory for the ‘Cats basketball program and another disappointing invitation to the NIT Tournament.
Guarding the perimeter
Delaware State didn’t play any people taller than 6 feet 7 inches for the majority of the game. The scouting report showed Delaware State wasn’t looking to pound the ball down low; the Hornets were much more concerned with penetrating and passing out to the wings for jump shots.
Instead, Northwestern continued to leave open shooters, allowing Delaware State to get the looks it wanted. The defenders should have been hawking the three-point line, preventing the Hornets to play their strength.
The freshman was unimpressive in the first half, amassing only four points and two rebounds. His defense was lackluster, as he was unable to guard his man off the dribble and he failed to account for the Hornet’s backdoor cuts.
Early on, he was unable to post-up much smaller defenders, but in the second half, he was a new man. The center was grabbing rebounds, clogging the middle of the lane and posting up for six more points.
The ‘Cats need more consistent play from Olah, who could become a real x-factor in the future against smaller teams like Delaware State.