EVANSTON, Ill. — It's been a frustrating season for Tre Demps. He struggled throughout the first half of conference play, and even his impressive efforts against Indiana (17 points), Iowa (30) and Purdue (16) went by the wayside as his team was simply outclassed by superior opponents.
But on Saturday, against a hapless Rutgers squad that now sits at 0-16 in conference play, his white-hot start would not go wasted, as Northwestern pounded the Scarlet Knights by a final score of 98-59.
Having battled hard but lost to both Purdue and Michigan over the past two games, Northwestern came out of the gates fast, burying the visitors into a 19-4 deficit by the under-16 timeout. The team scored those 19 points on just 12 possessions, good for a scorching 1.58 points per possession, with Demps leading the way. He had eight points by the first break in the action and finished the first half with 17 points and eight rebounds. The Wildcat offense was crisp and its shooters found themselves alone seemingly almost every possession. It was almost as if Rutgers hadn't read the scouting report. Aaron Falzon found himself unguarded in the corner — his favorite spot — throughout the half, and he knocked down three triples in the opening 20 minutes. Demps was left alone all over the court; he went a perfect 5-for-5 on first-half treys. Rutgers' rotations were nonexistent.
But it wasn't just the outside shooting that gave Northwestern a 48-18 lead at the half. Alex Olah obliterated the Scarlet Knights' interior defenders to the tune of 12 points and nine rebounds in the first half alone. Northwestern also added in a new wrinkle to its defensive scheme, showing Rutgers a three-quarter court press that resulted in multiple turnovers as well as the visitors having little time to run their "offense" (which mostly included desperation threes, turnovers and lots of aimless dribbling).
The second half featured more of the same, as Northwestern extended its lead to 38 — 67-29 — by the under-16 timeout and Chris Collins extended his rotation to include Jordan Ash, Joey van Zegeren and Nathan Taphorn for the majority of the half.
- Oh my goodness, Rutgers... The Scarlet Knights didn't seem all too interested in competing on either end of the floor. Their attention to detail defensively was off-the-charts bad. Demps and Falzon were basically taking warmup threes all game long, Bryant McIntosh was given plenty of room to operate all game, and Olah nearly had a first half double-double, and six of his nine rebounds were on the offensive end. He finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds, resting for almost all of the second half. The Wildcats could have (and perhaps should have) broken triple digits. Against a conference team. That's insane.
- The three-quarter court press and halfcourt trap that followed worked well against a Rutgers team that has a major dearth of skilled ball handlers, especially in the wake of the suspension of its best player, Corey Sanders. The Wildcats looked active on the defensive end, getting hands in passing lanes and contesting shots inside.
- Seeing shots fall from the outside was an encouraging sign for a team that has struggled at times from behind the arc this season. The Wildcats shot 17-for-28 from deep, with Demps hitting six, Falzon four, Taphorn three, and Lindsey and McIntosh two each. Northwestern shot better from three than it did the free throw line.
- Dererk Pardon continues to struggle, perhaps hitting some sort of freshman wall. He was 2-for-5 from the field, blowing a couple easy looks at the rim, and 2-for-6 from the free throw line. His penchant for fouling is something he will have to get rid of over the offseason.
- It was a great day for the seniors in their second-to-last home game. Olah had 14 and 10 in just 22 minutes and Demps finished with 24 points on an uber-efficient 8-for-13 from the floor.
- Overall, this game was nothing more than a formality. Rutgers is a really, really poor team, and Northwestern took care of business. What's more important, though, is that the team carries this confidence in its shot into the closing games of the season and into the offseason (and perhaps the post-season tournament it plays in, if any).