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Northwestern finishes on high note with win over Purdue

Northwestern's Tre Demps right drives past Rapheal Davis Purdue men's NCAA basketball game Sunday March 9 2014 West Lafayette Ind.

Northwestern's Tre Demps, right, drives past Rapheal Davis of Purdue in a men's NCAA basketball game Sunday, March 9, 2014, in West Lafayette, Ind. Northwestern defeated Purdue 74-65. (AP Photo/Journal & Courier, John Terhune) MANDATORY CREDIT; NO SALES

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BIG TEN TOURNAMENT

Thursday-Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

Thursday’s first round

• No. 8 Indiana vs. No. 9 Illinois,
11 a.m., BTN

• No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 Purdue, 25 minutes after, BTN

• No. 7 Minnesota vs. No. 10 Penn State, 5:30 p.m., ESPN2

• No. 6 Iowa vs. No. 11 Northwestern, 25 minutes after, ESPN2

Friday’s quarterfinals

• No. 1 Michigan vs. Illinois/Indiana, 11 a.m., ESPN/ESPN2

• No. 4 Nebraska vs. Ohio State/Purdue, 25 minutes after, ESPN/ESPN2

• No. 2 Wisconsin vs. Minnesota/Penn State, 5:30 p.m., BTN

• No. 3 Michigan State vs. Iowa/Northwestern, 25 minutes after, BTN

Saturday’s semifinals

• 12:40 p.m., Ch. 2

Sunday’s championship

• 2:30, Ch. 2

2013 championship: Ohio St. 50, Wisconsin 43

Big East men’s and women’s ­tournament schedules, Page 50

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — For a team that once looked as if it might not win a single Big Ten game, it wasn’t too cheesy to call Northwestern’s 74-65 win Sunday at Purdue significant.

Considering the Wildcats were without JerShon Cobb, the team’s second-leading scorer who earlier was lost for the season with a foot injury, coach Chris Collins called the team’s sixth Big Ten win its “most special.”

Of those victories, four have come on the road. The win Sunday snapped a seven-game losing streak, Northwestern’s worst of the season.

“We did not put a number on how many games we wanted to win,” Collins said. “All we said was we wanted to go into every game in this league and we want the other team to know when they play us, they’re in for a fight.

“We lose JerShon, people pretty much left us for dead, and rightfully so. We haven’t played well. Our goal was to come in here and let everyone know we’re not done.”

With the victory, the Wildcats (6-12, 13-18 Big Ten) finished 11th in the Big Ten, ahead of only the Boilermakers (5-13, 15-16). Northwestern will face Wisconsin in the first round of the Big Ten tournament Thursday in Indianapolis.

Despite the Wildcats’ struggles in the second half of the Big Ten season, the program is much further along than it was when the season began.

Consider that this is the same team that lost its first three conference games by at least 23 points and had only two true scoring threats in Drew Crawford and Cobb. Now Tre Demps and Alex Olah have become capable scorers.

Cobb, Demps and Olah will return next season. Olah had 14 points and seven rebounds Sunday and is one of the most improved players in the conference.

After playing badly in the Wildcats’ loss Thursday to Penn State, Crawford rebounded with 27 points and seven rebounds against Purdue. But it’s the 7-foot Olah’s emergence offensively that could change the outlook next season for Northwestern, which has five incoming freshman.

“When Cobb went out, I knew somebody had to step up and help this team win,” Olah said. “I just wanted to also take a load off Drew’s back and try to do everything I can.”

Email: sgruen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SethGruen



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