EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) Northwestern coach Chris Collins wanted Alex Olah to re-discover his offensive game. On Saturday, Collins got what he wanted.
Olah scored 21 points to lead Northwestern over Southern Illinois Edwardsville 81-56. Aaron Falzon added 17 points and Bryant McIntosh chipped in with 11 for Northwestern (7-1), which has won four straight.
Playing its first game after beating Virginia Tech 81-79 in overtime Tuesday as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, Northwestern had little trouble with the visiting Cougars. And it was an important step for Olah, who only had five points against Virginia Tech and hadn't scored in double figures since a Nov. 23 loss to North Carolina.
"The main takeaway from this game was just getting Alex going again," Collins said. "He'd had a couple games where I thought his defense was good but we hadn't established him as a scorer down in the block."
The Wildcats shot 51.7 percent overall and made nine 3-pointers as a team, five from Falzon. The Wildcats were boosted by 12 first-half points from Olah and have their best eight-game start since 2011-12, when they also began 7-1.
And maybe Saturday can boost Olah's offensive production moving forward.
"I just said this is it. I can't have any more games where I score four points or whatever," Olah said. "I'm a senior. I have to lead this team. I need people to trust I can score down low."
The Cougars (1-7) lost their seventh straight since opening the season with a 79-70 win over Arkansas State. SIUE also fell to 0-4 on the road, and is in the middle of a three-game trip away from home.
"Every game we're learning something," SIUE's Burak Eslik said.
The Wildcats, who won't play again until Dec. 13 because of exams, took their first 10-point lead at 23-13 with 6:23 left in the first half on a layup by Sanjay Lumpkin. Northwestern built its advantage to 29-15 with 4:25 remaining on a 3-pointer by Falzon.
That shot was notable because Falzon was playing without his right shoe.
"Somehow I was open and when I'm open coach tells me to shoot it," Falzon said. "I guess I didn't have a shoe on. I just put it up."
Northwestern was never really threatened during the second half. An Olah basket with 5:49 left in the second half put Northwestern up 65-44 and gave the Wildcats their first lead of at least 20 points.
Eslik scored 13 points for SIUE, which hasn't lost by single digits since a 77-74 loss to Campbell on Nov. 24. Following that defeat, the Cougars have lost by at least 13 points in each of their following four contests, but coach Jon Harris liked his team's effort and fight Saturday.
"We've got four games left prior to (Ohio Valley Conference) play and we're about taking steps every day, building each day," Harris said. "We're never satisfied with a loss but there was positives to take away from the game."
Southern Illinois Edwardsville: The Cougars are in the middle of a stretch of four games in seven days. . Saturday's game was SIUE's first against a team from one of the five power conferences.
Northwestern: The Wildcats improved to 5-0 all-time against SIUE, and 2-0 against the Cougars since their 2011 transition to Division-I. . Tuesday night's win at Virginia Tech was the Wildcats' fifth OT game over the past two seasons.
WHERE ARE THEY?
Northwestern doesn't play again until Dec. 13, and Collins was asked to assess his team eight games into the season. So far, the Wildcats are 7-1 without forward Vic Law (torn labrum in left shoulder), who was expected to be one of Northwestern's best players.
To Collins, it's clear the Wildcats are more advanced at one end of the floor.
"Right now we're a little bit more ahead offensively than we are defensively," Collins said. "As we continue to move forward we've got to continue to shore up that end of the floor so there's a good balance."
Southern Illinois Edwardsville plays at Southern Illinois on Wednesday.
Northwestern hosts Chicago State next Sunday.