Wildcats trending up entering the stretch run (VIDEO)

Photo at top: Tre Demps, left, and Bryant McIntosh celebrate a basket during Northwestern's 58-56 win over Illinois. (Adam Rossow/MEDILL)

By Adam Rossow

Playing much-improved basketball again on Saturday night, Northwestern earned its second win in the last three games by outlasting Illinois 58-56 at Welsh-Ryan Arena. What’s behind the Wildcats’ improved play over the past two weeks? Let’s dig deeper into some of the important numbers.

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12.3 – Scottie Lindsey’s points per game average since being benched against Michigan State on January 28. The sophomore guard scored a team-high 18 points in the win over Illinois, and recorded double-figures in three of the past four games.
“I’ve put in more work after practice, getting shots up with a couple guys,” said Lindsey after the 58-56 win over the Illini. “And I think I’ve played with a lot more energy lately.”

41 – Senior Tre Demps’ shooting percentage over the past four games on 3-point field goals. After struggling early in the Big Ten schedule, the 6-foot-3 co-captain is 16-for-39 from beyond the arc since his 31-point outburst at Iowa.

20.1 – Alex Olah’s minutes per game over the past four games. After playing 22 minutes against Ohio State, Olah played 32 against Illinois on Saturday night. It was the most since coming back from an injury in early January and just the third time the senior center played 32 minutes or more this season.
“I still have to keep an eye on my foot, but it felt great,” said Olah about the stress fracture in his foot. “I was exhausted after the game, but we got the win so it was worth it.”

11 – The amount of made 3-pointers Northwestern is averaging over its past four games. This is arguably the most important part of the Wildcats improvement. Following the team’s home loss to Michigan State, the Wildcats were shooting 26.3 percent from beyond the arc in conference play. That number is now above 31 percent heading into Tuesday’s game at Purdue. It should factor into their late-season success or failure, because Northwestern is 4-2 in conference play when converting nine or more 3-pointers.

.413 – The collective winning percentage of Northwestern’s final five Big Ten opponents, which is a dramatic contrast from the stretch of conference leaders they played in late January. If the Wildcats can win four or five games down the stretch to finish .500 or above in the league, they could secure the program’s first NCAA tournament bid as an at-large selection.
“When we came into this season, our goal was to play games that matter in February and early March,” said Northwestern coach Chris Collins. “We still are playing for a lot and the guys are excited about it.”

Photo at top: Tre Demps, left, and Bryant McIntosh celebrate a basket during Northwestern’s 58-56 win over Illinois. (Adam Rossow/MEDILL)