Men’s Basketball: Northwestern triumphs over Purdue to take 11th in Big Ten

Alex Putterman, Assistant Sports Editor

In a battle to avoid last place, Northwestern proved itself not the worst.

In their regular season finale, the Wildcats (13-18, 6-12) beat Purdue 74-65 (15-16, 5-13), ending a seven-game losing streak and securing 11th place in the Big Ten entering the conference tournament.

NU led most of the afternoon — by as many as 15 — and staved off a late Boilermakers comeback attempt.

Senior forward Drew Crawford led the way for NU with 27 points, including a 3-pointer with 1:19 to play that iced the Cats’ victory.

“It was a big shot because we were reeling a little bit,” coach Chris Collins said on WGN Radio. “Their pressure was bothering us. We had broken the pressure, but they had gotten to the late clock. Our guys had the presence of mind to not just fire something up, to make the extra pass to Drew, and he buried the big three.”

But the Cats received offensive contributions from many sources. Sophomore center Alex Olah continued his strong play, with 14 points and seven rebounds, and sophomore guard Tre Demps scored 10 and added five assists. Freshman forward Sanjay Lumpkin, an inconsistent 3-point shooter, nailed two second-half triples.

Even oft-maligned junior guard Dave Sobolewski chipped in with a useful performance. Sobolewski didn’t hit a field goal, but made all eight of his free throws, all in the final 7:10.

“It was a team effort,” Collins said on WGN. “You don’t win in this league without a lot of guys making big plays, and we did that today.”

NU held Purdue to 35.6 percent shooting, including 22.2 percent from long range, while shooting 38.9 percent from behind the arc themselves. That 3-point shooting, plus a number of clutch free throws at the end of the game, propelled the Cats to the somewhat-surprising road victory.

The win was a strong bounce-back from a terrible performance on Thursday, when the Cats lost to Penn State 59-32 on Senior Night.

“After Thursday, the way we played, and it was so disappointing,” Collins said. “To be able to come back on short turnaround, and an early game, and on the road and to play the way we did, I’m just so proud of our guys.”

The performance from Crawford — who scored only 6 points Thursday — was particularly redeeming.

“I’m so happy for Drew,” Collins said. “You have a tough game as a senior on Senior Night, and he didn’t let that get him down. He came back and he was going to go down firing today.”

As the 11-seed in this week’s Big Ten Tournament, NU will play either Iowa or Ohio State, teams against whom the Cats are a combined 0-3 on the season.

NU does have one thing going for it.

Going into the Big Ten Tournament, Collins said, “There’s no pressure on us.”

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