Men’s Basketball: Northwestern escapes with win against Illinois in low-scoring affair

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Men’s Basketball: Northwestern escapes with win against Illinois in low-scoring affair

Tre Demps drives to the basket. At one point in the second half, the senior guard drained four consecutive 3-pointers.

Tre Demps drives to the basket. At one point in the second half, the senior guard drained four consecutive 3-pointers.

Lauren Duquette/Daily Senior Staffer

Tre Demps drives to the basket. At one point in the second half, the senior guard drained four consecutive 3-pointers.

Lauren Duquette/Daily Senior Staffer

Lauren Duquette/Daily Senior Staffer

Tre Demps drives to the basket. At one point in the second half, the senior guard drained four consecutive 3-pointers.

Ben Pope, Reporter

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Men’s Basketball


A second-half eruption by senior guard Tre Demps led Northwestern to a 58-56 win over Illinois on Saturday, helping the team end a two-game losing streak to their in-state rivals.

The Wildcats (17-9, 5-8 Big Ten) overcame a brutally sloppy first half by scoring 37 after the break. Trailing by 4 with under 8 minutes left, Demps drained four consecutive 3-pointers to give NU a 51-46 lead.

His fourth and final 3-pointer, a pull-up jumper from several feet behind the line with the shot clock winding down, sent Welsh-Ryan Arena into a frenzy and seemed to foreshadow a pull-away win for the Cats.

But Illinois (11-14, 3-9) fought back, keeping the match close down the stretch. Guard Malcolm Hill appeared to the tie the game with 2.7 seconds left, but a foul negated the shot and forced an in-bounds attempt. Hill slipped after receiving the pass and was unable to get another shot up.

“He’s got to stay on his feet,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “It may not go in, but we’ve got to get one up on the rim. That’s the bottom line.”

Demps shot 6-of-9 from the field, including 4-for-6 from 3-point range, in the second half to finish with 18 points. Sophomore guard Scottie Lindsey matched him, hitting a number of critical shots and setting a conference career high in points.

“Alex (Olah) delivered a perfect pass out of the post that got me a clean look,” Demps said about his first of four 3-pointers. “When you see the ball go in once, it just gives you a lot of confidence.”

Senior center Alex Olah started over freshman Dererk Pardon for the first time in three games and returned to his pre-injury form, shooting 5-of-12 for 10 points while pulling down seven rebounds. Pardon, on the other hand, struggled all night, committing three turnovers and three fouls in just five minutes of playing time.

Early on, the Fighting Illini looked content to shoot from deep often and penetrate NU’s defense, but adjusted as the game progressed and established more of a presence under the basket.

Yet Hill, Illinois’ leading scorer this season, never found his offensive rhythm on a frigid night in Evanston, making just 2-of-8 shots and turning the ball over a game-high five times. The Big Ten leader in free throw attempts was held to just two such tries and missed both.

“We spent a lot of time the last three days trying to (practice to) defend (Hill),” coach Chris Collins said, praising junior forward Sanjay Lumpkin’s performance defending him. “Him not being able to throw up a 25-, 30-point night I thought was a huge key to the game.”

The sellout crowd of 8,117 suffered through a disjointed first half that featured 17 combined turnovers and a mere 23-21 lead for Illinois at halftime.

After the break, however, a back-and-forth game that eventually featured 14 lead changes restored the energy in the building.

“If we come out of the gate and don’t see the ball go in initially, our guys go into this panic mode and it drives me nuts,” Collins said. “We finally just relaxed offensively in the second half.”

This story was updated with postgame quotes.

Email: benjaminpope2019@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @benpope111

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