Men’s Basketball: Newly confident Wildcats thrive on slow pace


Daily file photo by Brian Lee

Sophomore guard Tre Demps goes up for a jumper. Demps said despite Purdue’s tenacity, the Wildcats’ growing confidence in their defense should serve the team well Tuesday.

Alex Putterman, Assistant Sports Editor

After two wins in three tough games, Northwestern just might be, dare we say, kind of good.

A week and a half ago, that seemed impossible. The Wildcats had dropped four games in a row. The latter three were 20-point losses to Big Ten teams. Speculation that they may not win a conference game became louder and louder.

Then the results flipped upside down. Coach Chris Collins reformed the team’s identity around slow offensive pace and sturdy defense, leading to a home upset over Illinois, a respectable showing against Michigan State and a shocker at Indiana.

Now, expectations are different.

“When you win a little bit you get excited and you want to win more,” Collins said Monday. “It certainly wasn’t fun the first three games. … To our guys’ credit we didn’t get down. We kept fighting. We kind of changed the way we’re doing things and how we’re playing.”

NU (9-10, 2-4 Big Ten) hosts Purdue (13-5, 3-2) at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Tuesday knowing it has every chance of victory.

The team has embraced defense as its best hope for conference success and in that identity held Illinois, Michigan State and Indiana to an average of 48 points, down from nearly twice that many over the team’s first three Big Ten games.

“Our first three games, teams were scoring about 81 points a game, and we just can’t play a game like that in this league with this team,” Collins said. “With this team, this year, we don’t have the capability of scoring 81 points in a league game. For us to win we’ve got to keep the scores down, we’ve got to manage our possessions.”

Collins reports the players have no qualms about buying into a low-scoring mentality.  In fact, the new identity has NU more assured of their collective abilities. Unlike before the victory over Illinois, the Cats believe they can compete with anyone in the Big Ten.

“Guys are just more confident,” sophomore guard Tre Demps said. “For a long time we were trying to figure out who we were. We were trying to be a 3-point shooting team, but then we realized what our strengths were. Our strengths are to play defense.”

The approach will again be on display against Purdue, a beatable conference opponent.

The Boilermakers’ 3-2 Big Ten record is slightly deceiving. Of Purdue’s three straight Big Ten wins, two have come at home against bottom-dwellers Penn State and Nebraska, and the other was at reeling Illinois.

Purdue averages 76 points per game but shoots a relatively low percentage and is ninth in the Big Ten in offensive rating, according to 

It’s the other side of the ball that has NU a bit worried.

“They’re well-coached,” Demps said of Purdue. “They like to pressure the ball. They have a lot of defensive tenacity. We’re going to have to do a good job of protecting the ball and controlling the tempo.”

Starting point guard Dave Sobolewski has missed three straight games with a concussion, leaving the Cats’ backcourt greatly lacking in depth. As of Monday afternoon, Sobolewski had returned to practice but had not been cleared to play against Purdue.

Demps and junior guard JerShon Cobb have handled the ball in Sobolewski’s absence, playing many minutes and further necessitating a slow pace.

“Part of it was we’re not going to be able to run up and down just because we don’t have the depth,” Collins said. “We don’t have a whole lot of options, so we have to play a little bit slower pace. I think it did help and forced us to take a look at a different lineup, and it’s worked for us.”

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