When threes are falling for the Northwestern Wildcats, Tre Demps is usually behind it. Saturday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena, he got some help from an unlikely source.
Demps had a clutch stretch of four made threes in a row late in the second half and Scottie Lindsey dropped 18 points and four triples of his own off the bench, as Northwestern (17-9, 5-8) held on late to beat Illinois, 58-56.
Just four games after being benched for Northwestern’s game against Michigan State, Lindsey responded in a big way. He not only found his stroke from behind the arc at the right time, but he also contributed defensively. Lindsey grabbed a key steal with just over a minute to go that led to a Demps fast-break layup, putting the Wildcats up 58-53.
“He’s such a big key for our team when he can come in and give us that kind of scoring and energy,” head coach Chris Collins said about Lindsey. “I see a guy that has the chance to be an outstanding player.”
Lindsey scored 26 points against New Orleans on Nov. 28, but considering the circumstances, this was the best game of his career so far. When asked about his personal turnaround, Lindsey smiled.
“I just knew that I had to bring more things to the table,” he said. “I just had to come out and play with a lot more energy and help the team out more.”
Illinois (11-14, 3-9) had a chance to win or tie the game in the final seconds, but Malcolm Hill’s potential game-tying jumper was waived off because of a foul called on the floor. Hill then had one final chance with the ball, only to stumble and lose it out of bounds as the buzzer sounded.
“That’s my responsibility and [Hill’s] responsibility to get a shot up on the rim,” Illinois coach John Groce said about the last play. “You don’t make them all, but it’s got to be better than that.”
Both teams shot woefully in the first half, but the action picked up in the second. Northwestern made seven of its nine threes in the second half after going 2-11 from deep in the first. Illinois shot 45 percent from the field in the second half after shooting under 29 percent in the first 20 minutes.
Lindsey’s third three of the game with 13:56 remaining tied it at 35, and his fourth put Northwestern ahead. Demps began his scintillating stretch about five minutes later, hitting all four of his threes in a 2:24 stretch, putting the Wildcats ahead for good.
“When you see the ball go in once, it gives you a lot of confidence,” Demps said.
That streaky shooting hasn’t always gone Northwestern’s way this season.
“If we come out of the gates and don’t see the ball go in initially, our guys go into this ‘panic mode,’” Collins said. “It drives me nuts. I think we finally just relaxed offensively in the second half.”
And for Northwestern to surprise some teams in the final stretch of the season, Demps will need to keep putting the ball in the basket.
“I’d love for him to be on a hot streak for about five more weeks,” Collins joked.
- Collins commended Sanjay Lumpkin for his defensive work against Hill on the final play and throughout the game. Hill, one of the Big Ten’s leading scorers at 18.6 points per game, was limited to just seven points in 36 minutes.
- Alex Olah started for the first time since Jan. 31, often getting position inside but also missing some wide-open layups. He finished with 10 points and seven rebounds.
- Collins dismissed a question asking if Northwestern is now “ahead of” Illinois in revenue sports, saying he had great respect for Groce and Illinois’ program. He also said he hopes that both teams get better and that Chicago deserves a “great college basketball rivalry.”