NU gains needed confidence with win

Northwestern will face far better competition than Penn State this season. That's an understatement. But for a young team desperate for its first Big Ten victory, a 70-54 laugher in State College will serve it well moving forward.

That was just what the doctor ordered.

Northwestern was reeling and run ragged, having been beaten down by two elite opponents to start Big Ten play. A young team still experiencing growing pains needed a dose of confidence as a cure. That's what a 70-54 road win over Penn State provided.

There's no denying, the 8-7 Nittany Lions are a below-average squad—that's putting it nicely. They proved it on Thursday, shooting a meager 31.6 percent including hitting just three of 15 three-pointers. But after drubbings from No. 2 Michigan and No. 9 Minnesota, a matchup with weaker competition was welcomed by the Wildcats.

The Wildcats were in need of a morale booster, a game which would showcase their potential. Most importantly, they just needed to know they can still win a game.

The stat sheet reflected what many hoped from the sans-Drew Crawford Cats. There were four players tallying double-figure points, with David Sobolewski, Reggie Hearn, and Jared Swopshire leading the way.

Across the board, the blowout victory serves Northwestern well.

One week ago, Sobolewski sat in the postgame press conference with a scowl on his face. He was eager for a matchup with Michigan's Trey Burke, arguably the nation's best point guard. Sobolewski finished the game with just seven points, and his Northwestern team never stood a chance.

As Northwestern's emotional leader, Sobolewski must pace his team in the stat sheet, too. He can smile after this game, leading all scorers with 18 points. He'll be happier with the fact that NU is finally in the win column.

Thus far, the Jared Swopshire swan song hasn't met the high hopes that were built up. The Louisville transfer brought in Final Four experience, but had yet to show the confidence his impressive résumé should have developed.

Swopshire showed his scoring abilities, posting nine points in the opening nine minutes—part of a 17-point performance and his best game in a Northwestern uniform. The fifth-year senior can greatly benefit from a breakout game.

From the perspective of freshman guard Kale Abrahamson, a 10-point performance offers a reassuring mental boost that he can be an impact player in the Big Ten. A long-distance three-pointer had him grinning ear to ear as he ran back on defense.

NU will need production from its young guard, who has been thrown into an adverse situation. The standout performance in a comfortable win bodes well moving forward.

Even head coach Bill Carmody can feel good from the victory. His starters carried the load, while bench players Alex Marcotullio, Tre Demps, and Mike Turner played important minutes off the pine.

Carmody appears settled in with an eight-man rotation for now, while Nikola Cerina and Sanjay Lumpkin remain sidelined with injuries. Seeing his team succeed—even if it was against a lowly opponent—has to feel good.

There are greater challenges ahead for the Wildcats; contests with Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana await them in the coming nine days. They can worry about those later.

Northwestern finally has something to feel good about. A little confidence is just the medicine it needed.

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers for Big Red Report, and currently covers the Northwestern Wildcats. He resides on Chicago's north side.
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