Undermanned Northwestern puts up good fight but falls to Indiana

Written By BY SETH GRUEN Staff Reporter Posted: 02/25/2014, 01:51pm

Northwestern coach Chris Collins praised his team for its effort after a 61-56 loss Saturday to Indiana at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

A foot injury to starting guard JerShon Cobb and the suspension of backup big man Nikola Cerina meant the Wildcats dressed only nine players. Collins said Cobb, who also is dealing with a knee issue, is out indefinitely.

So the Hoosiers (15-11, 5-8 Big Ten) used their depth against an NU team that doesn’t have it even when it’s healthy. Indiana coach Tom Crean said he wanted to bring the element of fatigue to the game.

‘‘You saw how physical Indiana was and how athletic, and they really hurt us on the boards a little bit in the first half,’’ Collins said. ‘‘I thought they played very aggressively and very hard and certainly were worthy of winning.’’

The Wildcats (12-16, 5-10) aren’t a particularly athletic team even at full strength. NU was able to beat the Hoosiers on Jan. 18 in Bloomington, Ind., because it slowed the game down.

Dave Sobolewski started in place of Cobb, one of the Wildcats’ best athletes. Since returning from a concussion Jan. 25 against Iowa, Sobolewski had been limited primarily to high-five duty. He played 10 minutes that day against the Hawkeyes and had played sparingly since (no more than four minutes in any game and twice not at all).

Sobolewski finished with two points in 18 minutes. They were his first points since he scored five Jan. 2 against Wisconsin.

It was the play of center Alex Olah, who has performed well in both games against Indiana freshman and projected NBA lottery pick Noah Vonleh, that kept NU in the game. Olah finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks.

Crean lauded Olah’s improvement from last season, and Collins said he epitomized the tough effort his team gave. Olah was battling sprains on both ankles but was able to show off a three-point range — he was 2-for-4 — that has been inconsistent this season.

‘‘[Collins] said whenever I’m open I can shoot it because he trusts me to make that shot,’’ Olah said. ‘‘The defender has to come up to me, and then that frees the space under the basket for other players.’’

Email: sgruen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SethGruen

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