Mississippi Valley junior transfer Davon Usher scored a game-leading 35 points to almost single-handedly keep the Delta Devils in the game, but Northwestern got key late baskets from sophomore guard Dave Sobolewski to pull out 81-68 win on Thursday night.
Sobolewski scored his first field goal of the season on a layup to break a 58-58 tie midway through the second half moments after Usher had hit a 3-point shot from the right corner to knot the score.
Sobolewski scored all 13 of his points, including two-3 point baskets, down the stretch to give Northwestern (2-0) the victory.
Reggie Hearn had 23 points and Jared Swopshire added 22 for the Wildcats, who needed a 23-10 spurt in the final 8:54 to win.
Usher, a forward who transferred from Polk State College in Florida, seemed to zone in as the game progressed, going 7 of 8 on three-point attempts. He had scored 32 points in his first two games with Mississippi Valley (0-3).
Northwestern had rolled to a 79-49 win over Texas Southern in its opener on Tuesday. Mississippi Valley had been outscored in its first two games 195-117.
On Thursday, Mississippi Valley also got 14 points from Matt Smith and 10 from Julius Francis. The Delta Devils, who had shot just 33 percent from the floor in their first two contests, connected at 47.1 percent against Northwestern, but Usher was 12 of 18 from the floor and hit all four of his free-throw attempts.
Northwestern shot hot-and-cold but ended up connecting at 50 percent. Senior forward Drew Crawford, who scored 20 points in the Wildcat's opening win Tuesday, was held to just 4 points. But Northwestern wound up 12 of 23 from 3-point range Thursday, with Swopshire going 5 of 6 and Hearn going 4 of 6.
Thursday's game didn't figure to be a nail-biter. And it didn't start that way.
Northwestern jumped ahead quickly for the second straight time, grabbing a 17-8 lead at 5:27 in when Swopshire hit a3-point shot. The game seemed to be tilting toward a second straight Wildcat blowout win, and a third consecutive lopsided loss for Mississippi Valley.
But the Delta Devils picked up the slack to create an up-tempo and, at times physical, contest. Northwestern led only 40-38 at the half.
Usher led the charge with 19 points in the first half, and sunk his fifth 3-pointer with 16 seconds left to bring the Delta Devils to within two points for the first time since the opening two minutes of the game.
Usher then tied the game 40-all at 1:08 into the second half when he drove and connected on a layup.
Northwestern went on a 16-5 run following Usher's basket to open a little breathing room, but the Delta Devils didn't back down. Usher leaped high to fire in a 3-pointer from the right corner to tie it at 58 with 9:30 left.\
Sobolewski drove through traffic 45 seconds later to lift his first field goal of the season and put Northwestern back in front for good, 60-58.
Earlier on Thursday, Northwestern announced it had signed Jaren Sina and Nathan Taphorn to national letters of intent.
Sina is a 6-foot-2 guard from Jefferson Township, N.J. He averaged 20.1 points and 8.4 assists as a prep junior at Gill St. Bernard's. The 6-foot-7 Taphorn averaged 13.3 points and 5.8 rebounds as a junior at Pekin High School in Illinois.