EVANSTON- The Northwestern Wildcats (1-0, 0-0 Big Ten) officially opened the 2018-2019 college basketball season at the renovated Welsh-Ryan Arena on Thursday night against the New Orleans Privateers (1-1, 0-0 Southland), a team many hoped they would defeat soundly. But that wasn’t completely the case as the Wildcats had to overcome a somewhat sluggish first half to put their opponents away. NU started the game with miscues at the opening tip-off which had to be repeated twice. From there they had to deal with nine turnovers, work against a tough defense that only allowed them to make 35-percent of their shots in the first 30 minutes, and pushed themselves to a 36-28 halftime lead.
Whatever head coach Chris Collins said to his team in the locker room at the break must have worked as the Wildcats came out on fire in the second half. They outscored New Orleans 46-24 in the final frame, cut out the turnovers, played harder defense, and eventually put the Privateers away by the final score of 82-52. In the end, NU was able to open the new arena with a win.
“Overall, I’m really pleased with the win tonight. I knew coming into the game that New Orleans has a great program, they were in the NCAA Tournament two years ago. We knew from watching film how physical they were,” said coach Collins in his post-game press conference.
Two players that got the Wildcats going were senior forward Vic Law and graduate senior guard Ryan Taylor (who transferred to NU in the offseason). Law scored 18 points which made him the 36th player in Wildcats history to reach the 1,000 career point mark. He also made 6-of-12 field goals, grabbed six rebounds, and dished out five assists in 32 minutes. Taylor led all scorers with 20 points which gave him 59 double-digit scoring games in his collegiate career. He also made six three-point shots.
— NU Men's Basketball (@NUMensBball) November 9, 2018
“Big Ten basketball is just different,” said New Orleans head coach Mark Slessinger who grew up in Indiana.
Senior center Dererk Pardon had his 10th career double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds, while sophomore guard Anthony Gaines added 11 points and four assists. While the team is glad to get the win, they realize that there is always work to be done.
“At times when it looked disjointed, we only had nine turnovers,” Collins said. He added, “There’s a lot of stuff that we gotta get better at, it’s the first game of the year.”
When Law was asked about his accomplishment after the game, he was quite humble about it.
“I think (Taylor) is fantastic. I think having Ryan out there makes getting five assists a lot easier, I don’t think I really did anything out there. Just give Ryan the ball and let him shoot it,” Law said.
Coach Collins and the Wildcats fans hope to see both players shooting the ball early and often as the season progresses. Especially since they have the green light to do so from their beloved head coach.
“All of my guys have green lights, you’re not going to get yelled at for shooting the ball….. I want our guys to shoot freely, I want them to take their shots and be cocky in that regard,” says Collins.
Their ability to shoot the ball will be something to watch this season with the talent on this year’s roster. Defense will be just as important, but offense will be key as the Wildcats struggled offensively in many of last season’s losses. But for now Northwestern will gladly take this victory. But they’ll be back in the gym sooner rather than later as they’re always looking forward to the next challenge.
“We’re just beginning this thing. I like the vibe of our guys and we’re a together group,” Collins said.
The Wildcats welcome American University to Evanston for their next game on November 12th.