Men’s Basketball: Tre Demps plays hero again as Northwestern downs Indiana

Alex Putterman, Assistant Sports Editor

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Tre Demps had been quiet all day, until the Wildcats finally fell behind.

Northwestern (9-10, 2-4 Big Ten) led Indiana (12-7, 2-4) for most of the afternoon Saturday but was behind 38-35 late in the second half when Demps — who at that point had only 2 points on the day — took over.

First, the sophomore guard drilled a game-tying 3-pointer. He followed with four more baskets, including a lay-up, two mid-range jumpers and another 3, to give the Cats a 47-40 lead. Demps’ personal 12-2 run carried NU to a 54-47 upset victory over the Hoosiers at Assembly Hall.

“I’ve always said Indiana’s environment is as good as anybody in the Big Ten,” coach Chris Collins said on WGN Radio after the game. “For us … to win this game, it shows so much about the toughness of this group.”

The Cats’ new defensive emphasis was a huge part of the victory. For the third straight game, NU slowed its pace and buckled down defensively, holding the Hoosiers to 25 percent shooting.

Sophomore center Alex Olah dominated the defensive end, blocking six Indiana shots. Olah also helped hold Hoosiers center Noah Vonleh— the likely Big Ten Freshman of the Year — to 5-of-15 shooting, including 3-of-11 from inside the arc.

“Alex is doing an amazing job defensively,” Collins told WGN. “His pick-and-roll coverage has become outstanding, he’s protecting our basket, he’s making baskets hard to come by around there. Noah Vonleh is going to be a lottery pick around here not too far in the future, and he played him straight up, which was outstanding.”

The Cats shot 37.3 percent from the floor, a slight improvement over recent performances. Senior forward Drew Crawford led the Wildcats on offense with 17 points and 12 rebounds, and Demps scored 13 of his 15 points during the game’s final seven minutes.

Indiana point guard and leading scorer Yogi Ferrell shot only 2-14 from the field with one assist, and Vonleh finished as the only Hoosiers player in double figures.

The game’s first half was particularly sloppy and low-scoring on both sides. Six minutes in, the score was 3-3. Seven minutes in, Northwestern led 5-3. Ten minutes in, Indiana was up 6-5.

Indiana missed 20 of its first 23 shots, helping NU lead 22-19 at halftime. Olah had four first-half blocks to anchor the defense, while sophomore forward Kale Abrahamson hit three 3-pointers to lead the team with 9 points at the break.

A mid-second half run gave Indiana a three-point lead, setting up the game-saving barrage from Demps, who is making a habit of late-game heroics in Big Ten upsets, after sinking three consecutive 3s toward the end of NU’s victory over Illinois last week.

Clutch shooting aside, it was the defensive intensity that carried the Cats.

“I keep saying it every game, but man, our guys are playing so hard,” Collins said on WGN. “We’re playing our tails off. Our defense has just become so good. We’re helping each other, we’re playing physical, we’re rebounding. … These guys are doing a lot of things right on the defensive end of the floor, and we’ve got to embrace that.”

Twitter: @AlexPutt02