EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) Center Alex Olah scored 18 of his 21 points in the second half on Friday night, and Northwestern shook off a sluggish start to post a 65-58 victory over Houston Baptist in the season opener for both teams.
Heavily favored Northwestern trailed 31-28 at halftime before the 7-foot Olah took over and allowed it to pull away.
The Wildcats took a 43-42 lead on Olah's follow-up six minutes into the second half. Sanjay Lumpkin followed with another lay-in, and the Huskies were unable to pull closer than two points the rest of the way.
Picked to finish last in the 13-team Southland Conference in the preseason coaches' poll, more physical Houston Baptist knocked Northwestern on its heels for much of the first half.
After Vilde scored the first points 24 seconds into the game, the Huskies held the advantage for the next 17 minutes. They led by as many as 10 points at a 12-2 lead when Tyler Russell drained two free throws at the 15:37 mark.
Law and McIntosh triggered a 25-13 run that gave the Wildcats a 27-25 lead, their first of the game. But when Odunsi and Smith answered with six points in the final two-plus minutes, the Huskies reclaimed the lead before halftime.
Vilde scored a team-high eight points in the first half, while Odunsi and Smith added six apiece.
McIntosh led Northwestern with nine points in the first half, and Law contributed seven more. The Wildcats were outrebounded 21-15 and converted only 35 percent of their field goal tries.
Houston Baptist: On the heels of a 6-25 record, the Huskies figure to be more competitive in their 50th anniversary season. Head coach Ron Cottrell's team returns its top scorer (Tyler Russell), top ball distributor (Smith) and top rebounder (Vilde) from a year ago. All three are seniors. Sophomore forward Colter Lasher came on strong last season, when he scored in double figures in seven of the last 10 games.
Northwestern: Second-year head coach Chris Collins is confident that a deeper, more balanced attack will translate into more points than last season, when it averaged only 59.5 per game. In a pre-season tune-up, the Wildcats scored 102 points in a victory against Division II McKendree, the first time they reached triple figures since the 1992-93 campaign.
Northwestern travels to Brown on Monday.
Houston Baptist hosts Hillsdale Baptist on Monday.