EVANSTON, Ill. -- With star forward Kevin Coble announcing possible season-ending surgery and key reserve Jeff Ryan helped off the court in the first half with a leg injury, Northwestern might have faded in the season opener Friday against Northern Illinois.
But the Wildcats turned to Coble's replacement in the starting lineup, Jeremy Nash, who scored 20 points to lead Northwestern to a 77-55 victory.Nash scored nine first-half points, including a resounding dunk to set the early tone for the Wildcats, who took a 39-25 halftime lead. Luka Mirkovic had six points and Nash five in a decisive 15-1 first-half run.Northern Illinois got within 42-34 on a basket by Tyler Storm just over three minutes into the second half. But Northwestern responded with an 11-1 run sparked by Nash. The 6-4 senior was too quick to the basket for the Huskies.Nash showed his range with a three-pointer and capped his impressive performance by flying through the air to block a shot from behind.Before the game, all the attention was on Coble, a second-team All-Big Ten selection a year ago when he averaged 15.5 points a game. The 6-8 senior forward, on crutches, disclosed that he was considering surgery after hurting his left foot Tuesday in practice.Northwestern also took a blow during the game when Ryan crumbled to the floor after making a pass and was helped off the court with an apparent leg injury. Ryan did not return to the bench.Northern Illinois was led by Xavier Silas, who scored 18 points before fouling out late in the second half. Darion Anderson fouled out with 15 for the Huskies. The Wildcats were 34 of 48 from the free throw line, while NIU was only 13 of 26.Mirkovic scored 15 points for Northwestern, Michael Thompson had 12 and John Shurna 11.This marked the first time since the 1986-87 season that the two in-state schools had met. Northern Illinois is 6-37 against Big Ten opponents.