One of the many bright spots for Northwestern was the debut of junior transfer Nikola Cerina. Cerina, who transferred from TCU and sat out last season, missed Northwestern's first game for personal reasons. He also didn't see the floor against Mississippi Valley State on Thursday.
The 6-foot-9 forward finally made his presence known in a big way Sunday, with five points and seven rebounds in only ten minutes of play before injuring his ankle in the second half.
Although uncertainty surrounded Cerina's injury, head coach Bill Carmody was quick to praise the forward's performance.
"I hope it's not a severe sprain or whatever it was, because he needs some minutes so he can get back in the swing of things," said Carmody. "He hasn't played in a year and a half—one time he dribbled and threw it into the seats. What he can do he does pretty well, he kept the ball alive a couple of times and he gives us a little bit of inside scoring."
Immediately upon entering, Cerina made his presence known, grabbing a couple rebounds and scoring quickly with a drop-step on the block. The man Carmody called Northwestern's best athlete during preseason instantly energized his team.
"As soon as he got in there, you could tell he was having an impact on the game," said senior Reggie Hearn. "He looks big and he plays bigger. Sitting here looking at the stat sheet, seven rebounds in ten minutes is unbelievable. [It's great] if we can get that from him moving forward—he scores down there, he's rebounding for us, he's strong."
In the always-physical Big Ten, and with freshman centers Alex Olah and Mike Turner still gaining confidence, Cerina's experience, rebounding and toughness could be crucial for Northwestern. One of NU's strongest players, Cerina used his size well in limited playing time and was aggressive both ways on the glass.
"He likes [the ball] down there," said Carmody. "Some guys don't like touching skin on skin and getting sweaty. He's a hard worker, he was getting very good position [in the post], very deep."
While Northwestern waits for news on Cerina's ankle, rest assured they got a taste of what their new forward brings to the table. Chances are, they'll need every bit of it down the line.
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