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Foul-plagued Northwestern wins in Chris Collins’ debut

Chris Collins picked up his first head-coaching wNU Saturday relying his bench overcome “monster foul trouble whole game.” | Nam

Chris Collins picked up his first head-coaching win at NU on Saturday, relying on his bench to overcome “monster foul trouble the whole game.” | Nam Y. Huh/AP

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Updated: December 11, 2013 6:28AM

The difficulty of transitioning to a new system is enough to challenge Northwestern on a nightly basis, but Saturday’s 72-55 win over Eastern Illinois at home taught the Wildcats that their depth will be needed to adjust to what will be much tighter-called games this season.

During the offseason, the NCAA instituted new hand-check and charging rules that, above all, look to increase scoring by making the game more physical.

Saturday, it was clear neither team had a grasp of the way in which the game will be called. The two teams combined to commit 49 fouls and shoot 67 free-throws.

Northwestern struggled with foul trouble all game. All five starters committed at least three fouls, forcing coach Chris Collins to go deeper into his bench than he may have wanted in his first game as a head coach.

Collins conceded that while adding he thought Saturday’s officiating crew called a consistent game on both ends of the floor.

“We had monster foul trouble the whole game,” Collins said. “We were trying to talk to the guys, and you have to adjust to the way the game is going to be called. They’re going to be consistent with that.”

While it is obvious the new rules will force key Northwestern players like Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb to be more aware of the way they’re playing defense, even lesser-used players will need to be more cognizant.

Aside from the fact that fouling obviously allows a team more free throws and opportunity to stay in the game, those stoppages in play stunted the Wildcats’ offense — particularly their ability to push the ball in transition.

Had Eastern Illinois shot better from the foul line — it only hit 21 of 38 attempts — the game would have been much closer, and the Wildcats’ foul trouble would have come into play even more.

But regardless, simply going to the foul line made it easier for the Panthers to get their defense set against a more athletic Northwestern team.

“As a player, you want to get in a flow in the game,” Collins said. “But that’s not on the officials, that’s on us. We’ve been told at the beginning of the year that’s how the game is going to be called.”

Once the team watches the game tape, Collins was certain to see the need to drill the new rules better in practice.

At first blush, he thought careless reaching caused Northwestern to struggle defensively in the second half.

“As long as they’re consistent, we have to adjust,” Collins said. “I thought we made some poor decisions in the second half.

“Everybody’s been told, and I think the referees will find a happy medium. If you look at the history of the game, the fouls even out.”


Twitter: @SethGruen

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