Daily file photo by Daniel Tian
The pressure was getting to Tre Demps.
Suffering through a horrendous eight-game slump in which he shot at just 31.3 percent — including a woeful 2-for-14 accord last week in Northwestern’s embarrassingly inept loss to Michigan State — Demps entered Sunday’s game at Iowa desperately needing to return to his A-game.
A career-high 30 points later, the senior guard now enters the final leg of his collegiate career with the Wildcats (15-8, 3-7 Big Ten) sporting a refreshed attitude.
“At this point, with (eight) games left in your career, you don’t have much to lose,” Demps said. “You just want to leave it all out there and that’s what I’m going to do for the rest of the season on both ends of the court.”
That eight-game stretch begins Thursday at home against Minnesota (6-16, 0-10). The matchup against the conference’s last-place team is one that success-starved NU is hungry to win, as the team is currently riding a five-game losing streak.
The Cats handled the Golden Gophers 77-52 in the foes’ first meeting on Jan. 9, before the season began spiraling out of control and before Demps’ occasional off-games escalated into a long-term funk.
Demps shot 5-of-11 from the field with 13 points and five rebounds last month — a respectable stat line. During the proceeding weeks, however, he turned in wasteful performances against Wisconsin, Maryland and Michigan State as the season’s early successes turned south for both him and the team as a whole.
NU’s 85-71 loss to then-No. 3 Iowa last weekend finally changed that pattern, at least for the former. Demps shattered his previous career high of 23 points, shooting 11-of-22 overall and 6-of-15 from 3-point range while adding four assists, three steals and three rebounds.
The calm swagger that accentuated many of his signature performances of past years — his trio of critical late 3-pointers in last season’s double overtime victory against Michigan, or his 21 points, including the game-winner, in last season’s 1-point overtime win over Elon — reappeared against the Hawkeyes. On an afternoon when the rest of his team looked sluggish and overmatched, Demps appeared energetic, bold and dangerous.
“He shot the ball with confidence, he got to the basket, and some of the floaters that … he wasn’t making as well (as he had in the past), he knocked down,” coach Chris Collins said. “When he’s got it going, it gives a lot of guys on our team confidence to play well. Hopefully, this bodes well for a great stretch these last eight games.”
Another factor that could help NU is the schedule. After four straight games against ranked teams, the Cats play only one more ranked opponent — No. 18 Purdue — for the remainder of the regular season.
The onus now rests on the team to translate that easier slate into wins starting Thursday against a bottom-dwelling, yet hungry, Minnesota team.
The Golden Gophers, despite having won just once since November, have lost each of their last five games by 7 points or fewer and led at Indiana on Saturday with under two minutes left. Guard Nate Mason has spearheaded Minnesota’s newfound tenacity, scoring 15 or more points in four straight contests.
Thursday’s game is far from a guaranteed victory for NU. And Demps, riding high at long last with his winter shooting drought seemingly over, knows he still has another slump to snap: the Cats’ five-game losing streak.
“The most important thing is getting back to winning,” Demps said. “I didn’t come here this year just to score points.”
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