Northwestern knocks off Western Michigan

Northwestern knocked off Western Michigan on Saturday at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Northwestern returned home this week with its record at 4-5, looking for the fundamentals lost somewhere on the road.

So Chris Collins stressed habits on defense, changed his starting lineup and tried to restore some faith in this stagnant team. The basics worked.

Buoyed by its best defensive performance of the season, Northwestern dominated Western Michigan 51-35 on Saturday at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Jershon Cobb scored 11 points and added five assists in an impressive team effort.

"I'm really proud of my guys today," Collins said. "That was our best game of the year."

During the three-game road losing streak, NU was frequently exposed — ignoring help technique and failing to close out on opponent shooters. Even before Wednesday's loss to North Carolina State, Collins and his players admitted as much.

Today, Cobb and Sanjay Lumpkin helped to disrupt passing lanes, while Alex Olah played with more intensity than usual. They held the Broncos to 24 percent shooting and forced 15 turnovers.

"It was just a mindset we had," Crawford said of the strong defense. "We've been struggling defensively a little bit. We really wanted to come out and make sure we attacked them with our defense."

This strong game arrived after Collins sent quite the message. He started James Montgomery III and Nikola Cerina instead of Dave Sobolewski and Alex Olah, respectively. Collins insisted it was not about "burying anybody," but rather infusing the team with something different after the difficult Wednesday loss to North Carolina State.

"My decision to do what I did was my instinct telling me we needed a change," Collins said. "Our last game was the game I felt like we fought the least in."

Forget the in-game psychological effect; this worked because NU finally returned to fundamental play. They had only nine turnovers – two of which came in the first half – and made very few lapses overall.

The Broncos entered averaging more than 75 points per game, but quickly struggled against an aggressive Northwestern team. After center Shayne Whittington hit a layup that made it 8-6 for NU in the early going, they went five minutes and 26 seconds without scoring.

"Our defense was tremendous," Collins said.

The Wildcats had their own perimeter struggles – they didn't make a first-half triple – but still opened up a 24-12 halftime lead that felt insurmountable. And, thankfully for Collins, the energy carried over. Western Michigan had another five-minute scoring drought early in the second half, as NU's lead to grew to 18 with 14:32 remaining.

Midway through the second half, Drew Crawford drove for a fast break layup. Following a Whittington free throw on the other end, Crawford iced the game with a triple that made it 41-20.

Crawford finished with 15 points and nine rebounds, Olah added 10 and six, and Tre Demps gave the Wildcats some solid minutes as he continues to carve out his role on this team.

"It was a complete team effort tonight," Crawford said. "It was all 12 of us… Everyone that was out there was fighting, taking care of business. That's what Coach asks of us."

The Wildcats return to action on Dec. 16 against Mississippi Valley State.

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