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Northwestern needs another comeback to win against Elon

The comeback moved the Wildcats to 4-0 before they depart for Cancun.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern found itself in a similar situation Saturday afternoon. There was 3:53 left, and the 'Cats trailed 61-53. Just two days prior, they were down 61-54 with the same time on the clock. It took overtime, but again Northwestern came out on top.

The Wildcats went on a 8-0 run in that final 3:53, and Tre Demps nearly won the game on a fadeaway jumper in the lane. Then, they finished overtime on a 6-0 run. Vic Law knocked down a pair of free throws, and Demps hit a step-back jumper to take the lead with 51 seconds left. The 68-67 lead would hold, and Northwestern remained undefeated.

Chris Collins made some changes to the player rotation in the victory. Johnnie Vassar entered in the second half and provided a spark for the Wildcats in his seven minutes on the floor. Gavin Skelly got a dozen minutes as well and subbed in-and-out with Alex Olah to play defense down the stretch.

"We had a lot of guys step up to help us win this game," Collins said in the post-game press conference. "I thought Johnnie Vassar's energy in the second half just kind of woke us up a little bit. I thought Gavin Skelly again gave us great minutes with his energy at the big spot."

Collins stressed that the team was "playing tired" and needed that energy to win. It was the team's second game in three days while Elon hadn't played since Sunday.

The fatigue may have affected Northwestern's offensive performance, which was fairly mediocre. They shot 40.4 percent from the field and made just 3-14 from deep. However, they drew a lot of fouls and got to the free throw line, where they knocked down 27 of 37 attempts.

"Elon plays very physically, so I knew if we played strong, we would shoot a lot of free throws. That's how they play. They bump you. They hit you," Collins said. "Overall, I think we've shot free throws pretty good, and I'd like to get there more often."

Elon was carried by guard Tanner Samson, who took 13 threes and made eight of them. He finished with 24 points, and 30 of Elon's 67 points came from the three ball. Northwestern allowed Samson to get too many open looks, and Olah gave up several easy lay-ups. Outside the handful of lapses, the defense played well and really stepped up in crunch time to get the victory.

Playing tight games with Elon, North Florida and Houston Baptist provides some reason for concern, but right now getting wins is extremely important. There aren't many W's to be had in the conference slate, so if the Wildcats want any shot at postseason play, they have to own November and December. Collins said it's good to see his young team finding ways to win.

"At the end of the day, our goal was to win these four games going into Cancun. We've done that. We haven't played our best basketball. We have a big area of growth with this team, and we'll keep striving for that."

Northwestern's best basketball is still a long way off. Half of their players are new to the team. They aren't going to have great chemistry early in the year. Eventually, the play has to improve, but getting wins now is vital to Northwestern's season.