EVANSTON -- Chris Collins won his coaching debut for Northwestern as Drew Crawford scored 25 points to help the Wildcats beat Eastern Illinois 72-55 in their season opener on Saturday.
Clapping his hands at times and consistently barking out instructions, Collins was a ball of energy while standing in front of the Northwestern bench for most of the night. The 39-year-old Collins, who grew up near campus in suburban Northbrook, pumped his right arm after JerShon Cobb came up with a big steal that led to a layup for Dave Sobolewski at the beginning of the second half.
Cobb had nine points and eight assists for the Wildcats, who beat Lewis 57-46 on Wednesday in their only exhibition game. Sanjay Lumpkin was 3 for 3 from 3-point range for nine points, and Alex Olah added eight points and eight rebounds.
Reggie Smith had 19 points for Eastern Illinois, which is coming off an 11-21 season a year ago. The Panthers went 2 for 18 from 3-point range, compared to 10 for 21 for the Wildcats.
Northwestern opened the second half with a 7-0 run to build a 39-28 lead and continued to pull away even after Crawford picked up his fourth foul with 7:14 to go. Lumpkin made a 3-pointer, Cobb had a free throw and Crawford had another 3 to make 67-47 with 4:14 remaining.
Collins was hired in March to take over for Bill Carmody, who was let go after the Wildcats lost their final nine games to finish 13-19 in the coach's 13th season at the school. Carmody coached Northwestern to four straight NIT appearances, but was never able to get school into the NCAA tournament for the first time.
Enter Collins, a former Mr. Basketball in Illinois who was an assistant to Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski for 13 years. The son of former NBA coach Doug Collins quickly emerged as the top candidate to take over for Carmody, and he decided the timing and situation were right for his first job as a head coach.
With his father watching from the stands, Collins finally got a regular-season look at what he has to work with in Evanston.
Crawford hit a 3-pointer to give Northwestern a 29-11 lead with 6:16 left in the first half, but the Wildcats then went scoreless for the next five minutes as Eastern Illinois put together a 15-0 run.
Smith scored seven straight points to get the Panthers within three with 1:38 left. Olah responded with a tip-in basket, ending the Northwestern drought, and Tre Demps hit a free throw to help the Wildcats halt the Panthers' charge.
Crawford was 8 for 14 from the field, including a 5-for-7 performance from long range, and also had 11 rebounds. The fifth-year senior was the only player to score in double digits for Northwestern (1-0) and likely will carry a heavy load all year long.
Sherman Blanford had nine points for Eastern Illinois (0-1), which was 21 for 38 at the free-throw line. Dennis Green had eight points and seven rebounds.