Northwestern (2-0, 0-0 B1G) cruised to an easy 111-66 victory over Chicago State (0-5, 0-0 WAC) on Saturday evening, playing with confidence and tenacity. It was also the first time the Wildcats have eclipsed 100 points since Dec. 21, 2015 (versus Sacred Heart), and its highest point total in 20 years.
Five different players scored double digits for the ’Cats, as sophomore guard Chase Audige finished with 20 points and sophomore forward Robbie Beran added 19. Junior forward Miller Kopp, first-year guard Ty Berry and junior forward Pete Nance scored 16, 14 and 12 points respectively. Audige, the transfer from William and Mary, followed up his impressive Wildcat debut with another notable game, ending the game as the leading scorer with eight rebounds and four assists.
“I think everybody does a good job in practice, kind of sharing the wealth,” Beran said postgame. “Once we have that, and there's not one guy that everybody needs to feed into, I think that makes us a pretty pretty difficult matchup to match up against, like, ‘Who are you gonna scout?’”
Northwestern head coach Chris Collins is also very glad to have junior forward Anthony Gaines back, who contributed six points and 12 rebounds. Sophomore Boo Buie, who had missed starting in the season debut with sickness, started the game and handed out seven assists along with nine points.
The first half started out fast, with both teams pushing the pace right out of the gate. Audige showed his scoring ability fast, and the Wildcats jumped out to a 9-2 lead, only to lose it when the Cougars tied it at nine. Shortly after, Northwestern went on a 15-2 run with the help of Beran and Ryan Young to take a 24-11 lead. And then they never looked back. Stalwart shooter Miller Kopp helped extend their lead to 20, hitting three triples in the first half.
“I want to play faster,” Collins said postgame. “We know coming into the league, teams do a good job of slowing you up in transition a little bit, but I just feel we're gonna be at our best if we can get out. We have a lot of skilled guys, I think we can spread the floor … I think this is a team [that’s] going to shoot a lot of threes. That's just kind of how we're built with this group.”
Soon enough, however, the Wildcats found themselves in foul trouble as the Cougars rallied to cut Northwestern’s lead to 14 with the help of senior guard Xavier Johnson, who scored 13 points in that stretch.
Toward the end of the half, the ’Cats were not productive offensively, but strong defensive play led by Anthony Gaines helped Northwestern force eight turnovers in the first half. Even with the faster flow of the game, Northwestern only committed one turnover before halftime, and ended the half with a 16 point lead. This is the first time in 10 years that the Wildcats have scored 50+ points in consecutive halves.
The second half went as well as Northwestern could have hoped for. The Wildcats took advantage of the Chicago State defensive zone, with gave Chase Audige time to showcase himself. Though Audige struggled with efficiency, connecting on 5/17 attempts and only 1/7 from deep, he plays with the physicality the team lacked last year. He was very active on the glass, and consistently found ways to get to the free throw line, leading the team with 10 free throw attempts.
Anthony Gaines definitely made his presence felt throughout, bringing the fundamentals and experience the ’Cats need to perform well this season. His aggressiveness and experience makes the team look and feel different; they oozed confidence.
“The more depth and the more confident players you have out there, the better chance you have to be successful,” Collins said. “I just think with the additions and the improvement of the returners, and then the additions of Ty and Chase, and Anthony coming back, that's three guys that are really good players.”
By the 11:51 mark, the ’Cats led by a score of 78-53, and closed out the game by another great performance by Ty Berry. He scored 14 points, and shot 6/12, hitting threes and playing aggressive. He helped seal the win for Northwestern, with a final score of 111-66.
The future looks bright for Northwestern — with last year’s team being the youngest in the Big Ten, and now with more experience and another year in Collins’ system, the ’Cats seem poised for more success this year.
“I think we have a lot of different guys on a given night that can give us production and hopefully that can work in our favor as we move on in the season,” Collins said.