JerShon Cobb making comeback memorable

After a strong start to the season, JerShon Cobb is providing all the answers Northwestern fans needed.

Last Friday, Jershon Cobb missed nine of his first 12 shots. In danger of suffering another upset loss, Northwestern never hesitated when giving him another chance.

Cobb grabbed the ball on the left wing with eight seconds remaining, roamed into the lane and calmly knocked the game-saving floater, runner, whatever you called it.

"He's our creator at the end of clocks," Chris Collins said after Cobb provided the difference in a 63-61 win against IUPUI. "He's our late game guy."

Even before the season, Collins suggested Cobb could be Northwestern's leading scorer. Yet Cobb's career – after his yearlong suspension and previous injuries – felt oddly in limbo. He would either be wildly disappointing or redemptive, and nothing in between. NU's head coach keeps betting on the latter.

You see, JerShon Cobb hasn't been perfect, and that only adds to the story. He's still an unproven secondary scoring option, despite some early success, and might also struggle as the "backup" point guard. He's not the fastest player, to put that fact gently.

But, like his teammates, Cobb arrived ready to wear the intangibles. Collins called him a "free spirit" after Monday's win, noting that the redshirt junior tends to joke about him sweating during the tensest moments of games.

You can romanticize suspensions and absences, wondering whether the affected player will "enjoy the moment" upon his return. We're watching it, and we should notice it. Cobb revamped his game, which was on display during Monday's win. He dominated offensively in the second half and had eight defensive rebounds.

This roster is filled with known quantities. Drew Crawford is the established top scorer and standout. Dave Sobolewski functions as the low-ceiling, decent starting point guard. Alex Olah perfectly fits the promising, raw center mold. With no NCAA Tournament aspirations – not yet – and only scattered potential, Cobb might be the most important contributor to this team's success.

We already know he embraces it. Once hidden behind Crawford and John Shurna, he's attempting about four more shots per game – in a giant minutes increase. He also unselfishly delivered on the "team rebounding" promise, with an impressive five per game (compared to just 1.8 in his sophomore season).

The improvements continue: He appears sharper from the perimeter, making four three-pointers against Stanford, and forms quite the defensive tandem with Sanjay Lumpkin. Opponents are shooting a miserable 29 percent from behind the arc through six games, and some of that can obviously be attributed to their effort.

More productive than ever, Cobb looks fresh (a commonly used word these days) and we've already forgotten about the turmoil. You can just imagine the annoyance of sitting out a season in this problem-free athletic program.

Last season was complicated: Crawford underwent season-ending surgery, Cobb was suspended for the year, former-walk on Reggie Hearn entered the spotlight, and Bill Carmody was fired after 13 seasons in Evanston.

This year, they all seem removed. Like the Princeton Offense being lifted, Northwestern appears content just playing the pure game — as stilted as it looks. The Wildcats are many things, but not afraid of anything, like JerShon and his game-winning shot.

Now the team's best story, the free spirit, the creator, JerShon Cobb is becoming everything they need him to be, and, we can assume, quietly enjoying the comeback.

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