When Drew Crawford was ruled out for the season with a torn labrum, the Northwestern Wildcats needed to rely heavily on its other veterans to help lead the team to victory.
However, the Wildcats struggled in their first two Big Ten contests and the future looked bleak in Evanston. But on Thursday night against the Penn State Nittany Lions the plan came together to perfection. The veterans led the way and the freshmen pitched in to help Northwestern get its first conference win.
Senior forward Jared Swopshire had arguably his most complete game since joining the program over the summer, dropping 17 points and grabbing seven rebounds in a team-high 37 minutes of action. He shot 5-of-8 from the field and 6-of-8 from the charity stripe to help lead the team. Sophomore point guard Dave Sobolewski continued his torrid scoring pace with 18 points and five assists. The other veteran on the floor was senior guard Reggie Hearn, who is still recovering from an ankle injury, but he still gutted through the game and scored 14 points.
The key for the Wildcats was always going to be the development of the freshmen and against the Nittany Lions, they stepped up in a big way. Kale Abrahamson scored 10 points and was really active on the offensive end of the floor. The forward is one of the most aggressive shooters on the floor for Northwestern and it showed as he hit 3-of-5 from behind the arc. The other key freshman on Thursday was center Alex Olah, who had eight rebounds in limited action before leaving the game with after a hit to the nose.
If Northwestern is going to be successful this year, the veterans will need to be the focal point of the offense with the freshmen chipping in. The plan finally came to fruition on Thursday against Penn State, but the question is whether it will continue to succeed as the Big Ten season goes along.