Northwestern's Dave Sobolewski gets tangled up with Butler's Erik Fromm as he drives to the basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, in Evanston, Ill. (AP Photo/Jim Prisching)
Updated: January 10, 2013 6:44AM
A near-capacity crowd filled Welsh-Ryan Arena on Saturday for an early-season game loaded with significance — at least for Northwestern.
Finals week has yet to begin at the school, but the Wildcats’ game against Butler felt more like a Big Ten matchup for a team searching for an identity and another quality victory.
Unfortunately for NU, it got neither in a 74-65 loss to the Bulldogs.
The Wildcats (7-3) needed
everybody to contribute against Butler (7-2), but captain and leading scorer Drew Crawford got into foul trouble early and struggled to find his shooting touch. Crawford entered the game averaging 14 points but didn’t make a shot from the field until sinking a three-pointer with 9:35 left. He finished 1-for-8 from the field and scored only six points.
‘‘Drew will be OK,’’ NU point guard Dave Sobolewski said.
‘‘Obviously, it’s great for us when Drew is playing well. But even with a down night, we were a couple of plays away from winning the game.
‘‘Drew is a huge part of our team and what we do day in and day out, but we have to find a way to win when he’s not playing his best
because everybody goes through ups and downs in a season.’’
Sobolewski assumed Crawford’s role as go-to scorer, mixing layups and three-pointers to finish with a season-high 21 points before fouling out with 5:10 left. His six turnovers were also a season high.
‘‘Talk about a tough kid,’’ Butler coach Brad Stevens said of Sobolewski. ‘‘When he lowers his shoulder and drives, there’s not much you can do about it.’’
Tre Demps added 15 points,
including several baskets down the stretch, and Reggie Hearn 13 for the Wildcats.
Crawford’s lack of offense wasn’t NU’s only problem. The Bulldogs dominated inside in the second half, outscoring the Wildcats 20-4 in the paint and outrebounding them 23-16 after the break.
Andrew Smith scored 19 of his 24 points and grabbed seven of his 10 rebounds in the second half for Butler. Rotnei Clarke added 13 points and Roosevelt Jones 10 for the Bulldogs.
‘‘Smith dominated,’’ NU coach Bill Carmody said. ‘‘It’s a good lesson for our two frosh centers. All he did was outsmart them, outhustle them, knock them around a little bit. They weren’t up for the challenge.’’
It’s never too early to start collecting victories, especially when you’re trying to go to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history while playing in a conference as dominant as the Big Ten looks to be this season.
Circle the game Dec. 21 against Stanford. That’s the Wildcats’ next opportunity to defeat a quality team and improve their NCAA résumé.