EVANSTON, Ill. — Northwestern breezed past Mississippi Valley State on Tuesday for a season-opening, 94-63 win. Sophomore forward Vic Law led the Wildcats with 18 points, although he would have easily had 20 with just an average night at the foul line. Junior guard Scottie Lindsey added 17 points while senior forward Sanjay Lumpkin’s 10 points and 8 rebounds flirted with a double-double.
“The first game of the season is very difficult from an emotional standpoint,” coach Chris Collins said after the game. “I didn’t think we played tight. I didn’t think we played nervous. I thought we played to attack.”
The Wildcats had their opening night bumps and bruises but controlled the game with ease from start to finish.
Here are five thoughts from Northwestern’s victory.
1. Law’s rust is gone.
After heating up late in the preseason exhibition, Law picked up where he last left off and was hot from the opening tip. He scored the team’s first points of the season on a mid-range jumper and then had the first dunk of the new year, showing great awareness to steal an inbounds pass and slam it home easily.
“I felt relieved, I guess that’s the first emotion,” Law said of the steal and dunk. “It energized me for the rest of the game. It was a big relief to start the game off that way.”
Law’s jump shooting was terrific, making five of his seven attempts. He also had this alley-oop finish off a Scottie Lindsey feed in the second half.
He needed only 10 shot attempts to net his game-high 18 points.
“I thought he played with a smile on his face,” Collins said. “In the Springfield [preseason exhibition] game, I didn’t think he did that. I thought he was tense, he was tight, he was nervous. You’re not going to play well if you have those kinds of emotions inside. I knew he was going to play well after the first couple of minutes when I saw a different type of guy out there than we saw last week.”
However, Law had his blemishes in the season opener. He turned the ball over five times and shot 1-of-7 at the foul line.
While the free throw shooting isn’t a cause for concern yet — Law shot 76.6% at the line as a freshman — the turnovers are another story. Law had a 20.5 turnover rate and more giveaways than assists two years ago. His turnovers Friday were the result of some careless plays. To his credit, although Law made a few ill-advised passes, he finished with four assists.
After missing an alley-oop attempt in the second half, Law came up hobbling and called for a sub. However, he returned to the floor a few minutes later and netted another jumper soon after.
“Everything went wrong on that dunk,” Law said with a smile. “I’ll make it the next time.”
2. Falzon barely played due to knee issues while McIntosh barely left the floor.
Sophomore forward Aaron Falzon played three scoreless minutes in the first half and didn’t see the floor in the second until Law got hurt midway through the period.
Even with a lead greater than 20 points late in the second half, Collins went with Law and senior Nate Taphorn on the wings over Falzon. The 6’8″ sophomore got back on the floor for the final 3:26 with Northwestern holding an 80-57 lead. He finished with 10 minutes of playing time and missed his only field goal attempt. He did have two assists, though.
“It’s been a rough go for him to stay healthy,” Collins said. “He’s missed a number of practices, he’s getting rehab, he’s doing everything he can to be out there for his team. He’s not moving like he normally does, but it hasn’t affected his heart and his energy.”
While junior point guard Bryant McIntosh got some rest as the game became a true blowout in the second half, he played all but three seconds in the first half. Freshman guard Isiah Brown filled in adequately as his backup with 11 points, four assists and three turnovers in 17 minutes of action.
“When you score 2,700 points of whatever he did in high school, you’ve got to have some confidence and some cockiness and some swagger,” Collins said. “Certainly with a guy like that you’re going to have to live with at times a few bad shots, especially as a young player, but he’s the kind of guy that can change a game, that can come in and score 10 quick points.”
3. Gavin Skelly blocked four shots off the bench.
The 6’8″ junior fouled out but contributed in big ways during 21 minutes off the bench. In addition to the four blocks, Skelly had five rebounds, three assists and no turnovers. He made a 3-pointer and made all four of his free throws to finish with 7 points.
“I view Gavin as a starter whether he starts or comes off the bench,” Collins said. “Because he’s playing so aggressive he’s getting in foul trouble. But I love what he’s bringing to the table.”
4. Scottie Lindsey is no longer one-dimensional.
Yes, outside shooting remains the junior guard’s best quality by far. He scored 17 points Friday on 6-of-13 shooting but also had five rebounds and a pair of assists.
Lindsey credited his summer tour to Croatia for improving his overall game under coaching from Northwestern assistant Pat Baldwin.
“Coach Baldwin let me run point guard for the team I was playing on,” Lindsey said. “The guards out there play very physical. I just got used to handling pressure. [I improved] ball handling and my post game. I know this year I’m going to be looking to score in the post.”
5. Northwestern scored its most points in the first half of a season opener since 2010.
That year, the Wildcats opened with a 97-78 victory against Northern Illinois.
Northwestern dropped 46 points in the opening 20 minutes, which are the most in the first half of a season opener since at least 1999.