The humid Florida air provided the perfect change of pace from frigid Evanston for Northwestern.
The ‘Cats' (3-2) up-and-down start to the season continued in a dominant 78-51 victory over Bradley (4-2) at the Fort Myers Tip-Off in Florida. Led by Pat Spencer’s 23 points, the Wildcats overwhelmed the Braves in the first half and coasted in the second to pick up their first two-game winning streak of the season.
Bradley jumped out to a 6-0 lead before Coach Chris Collins spent a timeout; the young ‘Cats yet again seemed unprepared for a pesky mid-major. Whatever was said in the huddle sparked the young squad, who came out with a 9-0 run punctuated by a Pete Nance sky hook, his only points of the first half. Northwestern would not relinquish their lead, which expanded to as much as 20.
The tale of the first twenty minutes was undoubtedly Northwestern’s defense. Bradley did not score a field goal during the last ten-and-a-half minutes of play. The ‘Cats forced Bradley into a paltry 22% field goal percentage with eight turnovers, while holding leading scorer Darrell Brown into just five points, entirely off free throws. Collins gave minutes to Robbie Beran, and the freshman responded by locking down the Braves leading rebounders, Koch Bar and Elijah Childs. The ‘Cats closed off on the perimeter, and even when Bradley had open looks shots just would not fall.
On the other end, Miller Kopp and Pat Spencer paced Northwestern with 11 and 12 points, respectively. Kopp finished the first half a perfect 4-4 from the field, including a career-high three 3’s. The ‘Cats went 16/31 from the field to leave the court up 39-21 at half. Collins went deep into his bench, playing first-years Boo Buie, Jared Jones, and Robbie Beran.
Northwestern pressed its advantage behind Spencer, who finished with a season-high 23 points and 8 assists. The Braves were unable to climb back without a response from the ‘Cats, who maintained at least a 20 point lead for the remainder of the match. Spencer put forward a complete offensive game as Northwestern pulled away through his deft passes and three-point stroke, including a couple from NBA range.
His two-man game with Ryan Young will be something to pay attention to down the line as the young center prepares for the physicality of the Big Ten. Young finished with 13 points and 7 rebounds in another solid outing from the New Jersey native.
For the first time all year, the ‘Cats thoroughly outplayed their opponents in what was as complete of a performance as Northwestern has played this season. Eight of 10 Northwestern players to step on the court scored, and not once did the ‘Cats appear out-hustled or outworked by Bradley. Pittsburgh will present a stiffer test on Wednesday, but this has to be strong confidence boost for a young team that has already dropped two games to non-Power 5 schools.