GAME NOTES: The Northwestern Wildcats will return home after a tough loss to host their instate rival Illinois State Redbirds at Welsh-Ryan Arena in a non-conference battle.
Illinois State is still searching for its first victory of the season after suffering a lopsided, 96-58, loss to Shaka Smart's Virginia Commonwealth Rams in its opener and falling, 78-70, to Drexel at home. The Redbirds are hoping to avoid falling to 0-3 for the first time since 2002-03 when they began the campaign with six consecutive losses. The team has not defeated the Wildcats since coach Dan Muller was a player for Illinois State in 1996.
Coach Chris Collins saw his career record fall to 1-1 on Thursday when his Wildcats were handed a 71-58 loss by the Stanford Cardinal in California. The Wildcats have two main areas of concern after having their inside play and aggression appear to be questionable versus their Pac-12 opponent. The Cardinal outscored Northwestern, 26-16, in the paint and also, 18-6, at the free-throw line in the contest.
The all-time series between Illinois State and Northwestern is tied after four games. The Wildcats earned a 72-69 overtime decision when these Land of Lincoln rivals squared off in the championship game of the South Padre Island Invitational.
The Redbirds could not overcome VCU's havoc defense and hit on only 31.7 percent of their field goal attempts in their first appearance of the season. They were not much better versus the Dragons, who limited them to only 32.3 percent shooting from the floor including a 5-of-20 clip from beyond the arc. Five different players scored in double figures for ISU against Drexel with Bobby Hunter scoring 14 points to lead the squad off the bench. Michael Middlebrooks registered a double-double with 10 points and 15 boards while John Jones tallied 12 points from the other forward slot. The starting backcourt of Zach Lofton, Daishon Knight and Paris Lee combined to make only 8-of-35 shots from the field with Lofton accounting for 13 of the missed shots in only 20 minutes of action. Lofton showed his ability to light it up at the junior college level, but he has converted only 25 percent from the floor in his first two games with ISU.
JerShonn Cobb had an excellent performance in the team's loss to the Cardinal, finishing 6-of-10 from the field en route to a game-high 19 points. Drew Crawford finished with 15 points and Tre Demps tallied 10 points. Crawford had trouble getting shots to fall as he converted only 6-of-15 field goal tries, but he was lights out in NU's season opener victory over Eastern Illinois with 25 points on 8-of-14 efficiency from the floor to go along with 11 rebounds. The 6-foot-5 Cobb is not only a spot-up shooter, he has also been a playmaker with 10 assists through two outings. The Wildcats will need more offensive production from junior point guard Dave Sobolewski along with the starting forward tandem of Sanjay Lumpkin and Alex Olah.
Collins, whose father Doug Collins is the most notable player in ISU history, intended on turning the Wildcats into a defensive-minded team. NU could not get stops against Stanford on Thursday, but it should be able to stifle the Redbirds who are going to need more time before they will be able to reach their full potential.
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