EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) — After opening the season with a stunning home loss last week, Northwestern bounced back in a big way Wednesday night.
Ryan Young had 16 points and Anthony Gaines added 14 as the Wildcats raced to a big lead and hung on for a 72-63 victory over Providence as part of the Gavitt Tipoff Games.
Miller Kopp had 12 points and Pat Spencer 11 as Northwestern rebounded from a 71-61 loss to a Merrimack team playing just its second game as a Division I program.
“Obviously, this was a huge win for us; probably the understatement of the year,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “I’m just really proud of our guys. I thought we were really tight in our first game because everybody wants to do so well and they’re young kids that really haven’t done much at this level.”
Alpha Diallo had 15 points and 14 rebounds and David Duke added 14 points as Providence dropped to 2-1.
Northwestern (1-1) led by 20 points in the second half before Providence closed within three points.
“They imposed their will on us early, then we weren’t able to sustain it late,” Friars coach Ed Cooley said. “You’ve got to play near perfect when you get down like that. They made some timely baskets.”
The Wildcats closed the first half with a 12-2 run — seven points by Kopp — to take a 40-29 halftime lead. They were 12 for 20 from the field overall, including 5-for-8 shooting on 3-pointers.
The Wildcats continued their surge after the intermission, opening the second half with a 10-2 run for a 50-31 advantage.
A few minutes later, Young, a redshirt freshman, converted a 3-point play with 12:37 remaining for a 55-35 lead, NU’s biggest of the game.
Providence, though, answered with a run of 14 straight points to pull within 55-49. Luwane Pipkins had a pair of 3-pointers and Maliek White added five points during the run.
“I was proud of us coming back, but that’s the grit we have to show from the beginning and, honestly, I was caught off guard and surprised by the way we played,” Cooley said.
The Wildcats went scoreless for 4:06 before Pete Nance hit an 18-footer with 8:31 to play.
The Friars continued to disrupt Northwestern with pressure and trimmed the deficit to 62-59 with a little more than two minutes to go. But Young answered with a basket down low and Gaines added a pair of free throws on the next possession for a 66-59 lead with 1:07 to play.
“I knew we were gonna play much better, I knew we were gonna play hard, I knew we were gonna play with a lot of fight,” Collins said, “but I didn’t know if that was gonna mean winning because I know how good Providence is and is going to be.”
The Gavitt Tipoff Games is an annual eight-game series played between the Big Ten Conference and the Big East Conference to tip-off the college basketball season.
Providence: After opening with blowout wins over Sacred Heart and NJIT, the Friars struggled in stepping up to face a team from a Power 5 conference. They rallied late, but the deficit was too large to overcome.
Northwestern: Making shots cures most ills, so the Wildcats looked like a much different (and improved) team than in last week’s opener before the basket tightened up down the stretch. One area of concern is defensive rebounding. Providence crashed the boards for 20 offensive rebounds.
Two days after the Merrimack loss, the NU players and coaches gathered before practice to clear the air.
“We came together Sunday, looked each other in the eyes and said, ‘This can’t happen,’” Gaines said.
Providence hosts Saint Peter’s Saturday.
Northwestern hosts Radford Tuesday night.
More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25