The Wildcats senior guard scored a season-high 26 points and added 10 rebounds for his third double-double as Northwestern beat Mississippi Valley State 86-64 in a nonconference match at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
"I just told him he was a warrior," Collins said. "I've been telling our guys from Day One that I want them to have the urgency that Drew Crawford has every day."
The Wildcats (6-5) won their second straight as they returned to action following an eight-day break for final exams.
"With Jershon out (Crawford) took on the challenge and led us in every way. He got every big rebound when we needed it, made his free throws and played a great game."
But he didn't do it alone.
Northwestern center Alex Olah and guard Trey Demps each scored 18 points, and forward Sanjay Lumpkin collected 13 points and 10 rebounds as the Wildcats won their second straight and finished with their second-best shooting night of the season.
Northwestern made 29 of 54 attempts from the field (53.7 percent).
"The biggest thing we have to do is play offense as a team and that doesn't necessarily have to be me scoring," said Crawford, who also recorded five assists. "But I'm always comfortable with the ball in my hands."
Forward James Currington had 14 points and 13 rebounds for Mississippi State, which saw its two-game winning streak end. Guard Cameron Dobbs had 12 points for the Delta Devils, and guard DeAngelo Priar added 10.
"The play of the game was when Drew Crawford in the latter part of the second half literally sacrificed his body and landed on his back for that ball and got a timeout," said Mississippi Valley State coach Chico Potts. "I had to congratulate him right there. ... To be successful, you have to have players -- especially veteran players -- to make those kind of play."
The Wildcats (6-5) took control midway through the opening half and maintained a double-digit lead most of the rest of the way. However, they struggled to put away the pesky Delta Devils (3-7) until a late 8-2 run opened an 80-60 lead with 3:36 to play.
After four early lead changes, a Crawford layup put Northwestern ahead for good at 10-8 with 14:53 to play in the first half. The Wildcats extended the advantage to 28-18 as forward Nathan Taphorn's 3-pointer capped a 10-2 run.
The teams traded 3-pointers in the final five seconds -- including a successful buzzer-beater from two steps behind the center stripe by Priar as time expired.
Northwestern now leads the series 4-1. The teams also met in nonconference play in 2012, an 81-68 Wildcats victory at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Northwestern hosts Brown on Sunday and closes 2013 and the nonconference season on Dec. 27 at home against DePaul.
NOTES: Northwestern returned to action after an eight-day break for final exams. The Wildcats beat Western Michigan 51-35 victory in their last outing on Dec. 7. ... Northwestern F Drew Crawford entered the game averaging 14.7 points and 7.3 rebounds, one of just three players ranking in the Big Ten's top 15 in scoring and rebounding. ... The Delta Devils played for just the second time in 17 days. They will be idle for another nine days until they play road games Dec. 27 and Dec. 28 against Washington and Washington State, respectively. ... Mississippi Valley State redshirt freshman G Jordan Washington started his fourth consecutive game. He scored a career-high 19 points in an 89-81 victory over NAIA Division I Tougaloo College on Dec. 7.