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Despite suspension, Northwestern guard JerShon Cobb still playing role

Northwestern forward Kale Abrahamsright is pressured Minnesotforward Rodney Williams Jr. during first half an NCAA college basketball game Sunday Jan.

Northwestern forward Kale Abrahamson, right, is pressured Minnesota forward Rodney Williams Jr. during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Andy King)

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Updated: January 9, 2013 11:22PM

Northwestern’s roster has been so depleted that just having JerShon Cobb back at practice has been a big relief.

“When something you’ve been doing your whole life is taken away from you, it’s hard,” said Cobb, who is serving a seasonlong academic suspension. “When you think you can help in a lot of different ways, it’s very hard.”

The junior guard said his grades from the fall quarter rank among the best of his career. He also is working his way back into shape while assuming the role of the opposition’s best player during practice with the scout team.

That means he likely has been imitating Penn State’s D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall during preparations for the game Thursday at Penn State (8-6 overall, 0-2 Big Ten).

“It’s huge,” freshman Kale Abrahamson said of his team’s first game against a conference opponent not ranked in the top 10. “It’s definitely a game we have to win. Everybody feels that way.”

Coach Bill Carmody slowed the pace Sunday against No. 8 Minnesota after his team was blown out in its season opener against No. 2 Michigan. The strategy was effective in the first half. The Cats (9-6, 0-2) dictated the tempo and trailed 17-14 at the break. But the Gophers opened the second half with a 13-4 run and won by 18.

Carmody will be looking for a happy medium against a Nittany Lions program Northwestern beat twice last season.

“We can switch it up possession by possession based on what we call,” Abrahamson said. “Most of our sets are very exact in their execution. The time frame they are executed in is variable, and we can switch it up as we go.”

Nobody is giving up on the season, but with Cobb and leading scorer Drew Crawford out, the development of four freshmen and redshirt freshmen not only will determine where the Wildcats finish this season, but what their expectations will be next season.

Results have been mixed, which is to be expected against quality competition early in the season.

“They just have to stick to what they’re good at and realize there’s not too much pressure on them,” senior Jared Swopshire said of the four freshmen. “Nobody is expecting them to do a whole lot. Just go out there and play hard and stick to the scouting report. Everything else will take care of itself.”

As disappointed as Cobb might be while watching his teammates this season, he said fleeting thoughts of transferring have dissipated.

The focus is on this season, to be sure, but there’s growing optimism about what might be possible next season, assuming the roster is healthy and fully intact for a change.

“He is taking care of business now,” Carmody said of Cobb. “That’s the important thing. He has got to continue to do that, but we’re all there supporting him. It seems like he’s a changed man, so that’s great.”

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