Not all close games are good games. And Northwestern and Illinois certainly supported that narrative Saturday night when the Wildcats overcame a sluggish start to clip in-state rival Illinois 58-56 at Welsh Ryan Arena.
Overall - B+
The Wildcats played really poorly in the first half on both sides of the ball. Defensively they were slow on rotations in the halfcourt and slow in picking up open shooters in transition. Offensively they turned the ball over 10 times and shot 2 of 11 from three. Still, Northwestern found itself down just 23-21 at halftime, in large part because Illinois shot just 29 percent from the field.
The second half was a different story as both teams shot the ball much better. Illinois shot 45 percent from the field and Northwestern hit 7 of 15 threes, all but one of which came from Scottie Lindsey and Tre Demps, who caught fire in pivotal moments down the stretch. Northwestern's bench, lead by Lindsey's game-high 18 points, outscored Illinois' bench 23-9, and ultimately proved to be the difference.
Northwestern didn't put together its cleanest performance, but a win's a win and that's all that matters at this stage of the season.
Tre Demps: A-
18 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 turnover on 6 of 15 FG, 4 of 10 3FG in 37 minutes
Demps had a forgettable first half, going 0-6 from the field and 0-4 from three in the first 20 minutes, but he quickly redeemed himself in the second half by burying a three on four consecutive possessions late in the second half to singlehandedly give his team back the lead and momentum.
Bryant McIntosh: B
4 points, 5 rebounds, 9 assists and 2 turnovers on 2 of 7 FG, 0 of 4 3FG in 38 minutes
McIntosh scored Northwestern's first two baskets of the game, but then went scoreless the rest of the way. Despite taking a more passive approach offensively, McIntosh did a really good job, whether it was Lindsey or Demps, of feeding the hot hand in the second half.
Aaron Falzon: D
0 points, 4 rebounds, 0 assists and 2 turnovers on 0 of 3 FG, 0 of 3 3FG in 13 minutes
The only time the PA announcer called Falzon's name was during the pre-game introductions. Falzon got the starting nod but didn't see the floor much after that because Lindsey played so well.
Alex Olah: B+
10 points, 7 rebounds, and 1 turnover (involved in more) on 5 of 12 FG, 0 of 2 FT in 32 minutes
Olah looked a bit clumsy early on, turning the ball over a few times on offense. But he still managed to crack double digits and did a solid job anchoring Northwestern's 2-3 defense. At one point, Collins took Olah out and had to immediately put him back in after Northwestern gave up a wide open layup underneath. Illinois finished with just 16 points in the paint. Olah also played more minutes than he had in any of the previous fourteen contests, which is a promising sign for the big fella.
Sanjay Lumpkin: B-
3 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 turnover on 1 of 2 FG, 1 of 2 3FG in 27 minutes
Per usual, Lumpkin didn't make much of a footprint offensively, but he did do a nice job defending Illinois' top two scorers, Malcolm Hill (7 points) and Kendrick Nunn (13 points), who were both relatively quiet all night.
Dererk Pardon: F
0 points, 1 rebound, 3 turnovers and 3 fouls on 0 of 0 FG, in 5 minutes
This was a game to forget for Pardon, who got into foul trouble early and never found a rhythm.
Gavin Skelly: A
5 points, 4 rebounds, 0 turnovers and 2 assists on 2 of 2 FG, in 11 minutes
It'll be overshadowed by Lindsey's stellar performance, but Skelly quietly played one of his better games of the season Saturday. He gave his team and the crowd a much-needed jolt of energy off the bench early in the game when he threw down a dunk and grabbed a couple of key boards. And then he gave Northwestern another small spark in the second half by connecting on a three-point play and aggressively attacking the offensive glass. Skelly also made an impact as a distributor, making quick decisions with the ball on the elbow against Illinois' 2-3 zone.
Scottie Lindsey: A
18 points, 1 rebound, 1 turnover and 2 assists on 6 of 10 FG and 4 of 7 3FG in 30 minutes
Lindsey was the story of the game, and matched Demps' scoring output. And he even showed some emotion during his second-half run!