EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) Northwestern coach Chris Collins liked the energy he felt in the locker room. He felt his young team was ready to play.
Then the game began and the Wildcats quickly fell behind by nine points.
During a timeout, the players focused on staying positive.
”You don’t lose that edge when you start with it,” Northwestern guard Tre Demps said. ”Everybody stayed confident, had great body language. We kept talking to each other. That’s what got us out of that hole.”
The Wildcats started making shots, stuck with their defensive plan and rallied. Demps scored 17 points and Northwestern beat Western Michigan 67-61 on Saturday afternoon.
Nathan Taphorn and Bryant McIntosh added 10 points apiece for the Wildcats, who rebounded from a loss to another MAC team, Central Michigan, on Wednesday.
”That’s what I was really proud of,” Collins said. ”We withstood that early hot shooting.”
Tucker Haymond scored 12 points and Connar Tava and David Brown added 11 apiece for the Broncos, who led by three at halftime.
Northwestern opened the second half on a 7-1 run to lead 32-29. The Wildcats took a 36-34 lead on Demps’ layup and never trailed again.
”Every time we crept back into it, (Demps) seemed to hit another shot,” Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins said.
McIntosh hit a 3 with 2:09 left for a 58-51 lead. Taphorn made two free throws with 1:16 left to extend the lead to 60-53.
Northwestern shot 43 percent from the field to Western Michigan’s 39 percent. The Wildcats shot 30 percent from 3-point range (6 of 20) while Western Michigan shot 39 percent (10 of 26).
The Broncos went 6 for 14 from beyond the arc before halftime but were just 4 for 12 in the second half.
”We got strung out a lot in the Central Michigan game. We were continually beaten off the dribble,” Collins said. ”We made more of a conscious effort to go back to the basics. It’s got to be team defense.
”We compacted our defense a lot better. We were plugging gaps. We had guys helping. We defended the 3 much better as the game went on.”
Collins was also pleased with Northwestern’s defense on Tava, who shot 3 for 9 from the field. He entered the game averaging a team-high 16.1 points.
”When we threw (the ball in) in, they’d cover down, and when we’d throw it out, they had good close outs,” Tava said of the defense.
Both teams struggled at the free-throw line, as Western Michigan shot 13 for 23 and Northwestern went 15 for 23.
”If we just make six more free throws, we’d still only shoot 70 percent from the line,” Tava said. ”Right there, that’s the ballgame.”
Northwestern had lost four of five. The Wildcats lead the all-time series against the Broncos 23-5.
”Today was a step in the right direction,” Demps said. ”We still have a little bit of soul searching.”
Western Michigan: The Broncos were completing a seven-game road trip and have not played in Kalamazoo, Michigan, since Nov. 22. …Western Michigan has five players from Illinois. . The Broncos entered the game shooting 41.6 percent from 3-point range, 16th in the nation. . Hawkins was called for a technical foul with 12:37 left, and Northwestern went ahead 43-36.
Northwestern: PG Bryant McIntosh was named Big Ten co-freshman of the week on Dec. 15 after he scored 15 points in 23 minutes in a 101-49 victory over Mississippi Valley State. . Before losing 80-67 to Central Michigan, the Wildcats held their previous 15 opponents to under 70 points, dating back to Feb. 22.
Northwestern has six freshmen, so the team experiences a lot of firsts. Forward Gavin Skelly scored six points on 3-for-4 shooting. He also took his first charge, which Collins pointed out to the media.
”I feel I need to bring energy to this team,” Skelly said.
Western Michigan: Hosts Alabama A&M on Monday.
Northwestern: Hosts Illinois-Chicago on Monday.