Men’s Basketball: Tre Demps’ clutch shooting keys Northwestern upset of Illinois

Sophomore+guard+Tre+Demps+surveys+the+court.+Demps+scored+11+points%2C+including+three+consecutive+3-pointers+late+in+the+second+half%2C+to+lead+Northwestern+past+No.+23+Illinois.
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Men’s Basketball: Tre Demps’ clutch shooting keys Northwestern upset of Illinois

Sophomore guard Tre Demps surveys the court. Demps scored 11 points, including three consecutive 3-pointers late in the second half, to lead Northwestern past No. 23 Illinois.

Sophomore guard Tre Demps surveys the court. Demps scored 11 points, including three consecutive 3-pointers late in the second half, to lead Northwestern past No. 23 Illinois.

Susan Du/Daily Senior Staffer

Sophomore guard Tre Demps surveys the court. Demps scored 11 points, including three consecutive 3-pointers late in the second half, to lead Northwestern past No. 23 Illinois.

Susan Du/Daily Senior Staffer

Susan Du/Daily Senior Staffer

Sophomore guard Tre Demps surveys the court. Demps scored 11 points, including three consecutive 3-pointers late in the second half, to lead Northwestern past No. 23 Illinois.

Alex Putterman, Assistant Sports Editor

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At times during Northwestern’s four-game losing streak, the Wildcats seemed like they might not win another contest this season.

But thanks to clutch shooting from a somewhat-unlikely hero and a lockdown defensive effort, NU pulled off a stunning upset over in-state rival Illinois.

Three straight 3-pointers from sophomore guard Tre Demps late in the second half lifted the Cats (8-9, 1-3 Big Ten) to a 49-43 victory over No. 23 Illinois (13-4, 2-2) at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Sunday.

“That was a special night for us,” said coach Chris Collins, who secured his first Big Ten victory. “In the timeouts we kept saying ‘We can be tired tomorrow. We can’t be tired tonight.’”

The Cats’ offense was characteristically sluggish in pace and productivity for much of the night, but the Illini also lacked for scoring, and perhaps the Cats’ only hope for an upset — a game in the 40s — came to fruition.

NU had lost its first three conference games by an average of more than 25 points but won by holding Illinois to just 28.1 percent shooting from the field.

Senior forward Drew Crawford led the Cats with 13 points, and Demps and junior guard JerShon Cobb added 11 apiece.

Illini guard Rayvonte Rice, who entered the game as the conference’s leading scorer at 18.8 points per game, didn’t sink a field goal in the first half. Rice finished with 8 points on 2-11 shooting, after scoring at least 12 in each of his first 16 games this season.

Rice was shadowed all night defensively by freshman forward Sanjay Lumpkin, who lost a tooth as part of his effort.

“I had just taken my mouth guard out literally 10 seconds before that happened,” Lumpkin said with an incomplete smile. “I think the first thing I did was look at my mom in the stands.”

NU won in large part thanks to an opening period in which some combination of the Cats’ defense and the Illini’s lack of offensive finishing staked the home team to a lead.

NU held Illinois to 15 first-half points on 19.4 percent shooting and led by 7 at the break. The Illini missed from every part of the floor, clanking all eight of their 3-point attempts and failing to convert numerous opportunities at the rim.

“We did not make enough plays on offense,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “I did think they defended well. It’s a blend there of them defending well and us not being nearly aggressive (enough).”

Sophomore center Alex Olah scored 7 first-half points, including a 3 from the corner, his second long-range make of the season. Olah finished with 9 points, seven rebounds and multiple key defensive plays late in the second half.

NU’s lead reached 10 early in the second half before an extended period of mutual sloppiness. Finally, with the score 27-19 and 13 minutes to play, Illinois made a run to tie the game at 27.

Demps’ barrage came minutes later, with both teams sitting on 34 points. The first 3-pointer, with 6:28 to play, gave the Cats a lead they would hold the rest of the evening. When Demps was finished two triples later, NU had a 7-point lead on the strength of the sophomore’s personal 9-2 run.

“I was just waiting for a good look,” Demps said. “And when I hit the first one I got a good rhythm going.”

Junior guard Dave Sobolewski missed the game with a concussion. Sophomore forward Kale Abrahamson started in Sobolewski’s place, and Cobb handled point guard responsibilities.

Despite Sobolewski’s absence, Illinois waited until late in the contest to use a full-court press and produced several turnovers when it did. But NU hit key free throws down the stretch, sealing the marquee victory of the very young Collins era.

In the locker room after the game, Demps was justifiably jubilant.

“Just to be in there with my brothers and just to hug each other,” Demps said. “It was a feeling like no other.”

Email: alexanderputterman2016@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @AlexPutt02