Northwestern is happy to have fans back in its arena this season.
The Wildcats (2-0) have opened the season with home victories against Eastern Illinois (80-56) and High Point (95-60), playing in front of spectators for the first time since the end of the 2019-20 season because of the pandemic.
It’s made a difference as Northwestern prepares to host New Orleans (1-1) on Tuesday night.
“Having fans back is definitely a plus to start the season,” said Boo Buie, who scored 19 points in the victory against High Point on Friday.
The Wildcats rolled in the opener, taking the lead for good at 8-7, but trailed by nine early in their second game. However, they excited the crowd by rallying to take a one-point halftime lead and starting the second half on a 19-7 run.
“I don’t think people understood,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said, “even though we were really enjoying playing (last season) … it was really weird when the buildings were completely empty other than the two teams. To have a little energy, to have music playing, … to actually have people here (is) cool.”
New Orleans is familiar with the atmosphere at Northwestern as the Privateers are making their fourth trip to Evanston, Ill., in the past seven seasons.
“I want a different result than we had the first three times,” New Orleans coach Mark Slessinger said.
Those three contests weren’t close. The Wildcats won 90-63 in 2015-16, 83-49 in 2016-17 and 82-52 in 2018-19.
“They’re a very tough matchup,” Slessinger said. “They run a ton of stuff offensively and all five (starters) can shoot threes and so they spread the floor.”
The Privateers bounced back from an 82-61 loss at Ole Miss to open to season, beating Spring Hill 79-41 in their home opener on Saturday.
The matchup against a Division II opponent gave Slessinger an opportunity to look at his entire roster.
All 14 Privateers made at least one field goal, and New Orleans’ bench outscored Spring Hill’s bench 39-2. Derek St. Hilaire, who scored 21 points in New Orleans’ opening defeat, added 17 in the second game.
–Field Level Media