BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Northwestern had scored in the 40s in each of its past two games, winning one and losing one.
So the Wildcats were pleased to see their opponent Saturday be the one to struggle to score.
Drew Crawford had 17 points and 11 rebounds and Tre Demps scored 13 of his 15 points in a late run as the Wildcats held off Indiana, 54-47, on Saturday.
The victory was Northwestern’s first Big Ten road win since Jan. 17, 2013, at Illinois. The Wildcats (9-10, 2-4 Big Ten) had lost their first two conference road games by 23 and 26 points, respectively.
But with Indiana (12-6, 2-3) struggling to score, the Wildcats eked out their second road win overall under first-year coach Chris Collins.
Collins credited the Wildcats’ 49-43 win over Illinois on Jan. 12 for his team’s success Saturday against the Hoosiers.
“We did much better against the pressure (than we did against Illinois),” Collins said.
“We’ve kind of found ourselves, our identity. It takes time to figure that out,” he said. “If we’re going to make something out of this year, we’ve got to make ourselves a scrappy, blue-collar team.”
Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell, the Hoosiers’ sophomore point guard who came into Saturday leading the Big Ten in scoring at 17.9 ppg, scored 9 points while shooting just 2 of 13 from the field.
“It was a combination of things,” Ferrell said of Indiana’s shooting woes. “I know Evan (Gordon) had a lot of open shots on kicks and drives, they just didn’t happen to fall.
“They packed the paint. It’s kind of hard to drive to the rim and attack.”
Noah Vonleh led the Hoosiers with 17 points and 12 rebounds. The Hoosiers ended up shooting 25 percent from the field (15 of 60).
Both teams struggled offensively from the start. The Hoosiers, whose 72.5 ppg in conference play was fourth in the Big Ten coming in, didn’t reach double digits in points until Vonleh hit two free throws with 2:59 to play in the first half.
“There’s no question Northwestern earned it, but the complacency we played with today on offense ... we participated in it by settling, not moving the ball enough,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said.
But after hitting just three of their first 25 shots, the Hoosiers hit 3 of 4 to close within 22-19 at the break. IU finished the first half 6 of 31 from the field.
Northwestern led by nine points twice in the first half, but couldn’t pull further away because of its own shooting woes. Despite several open looks on missed defensive switches, the Wildcats couldn’t get shots to fall.
Northwestern shot just 8 of 29 from the field in the first half, including 3 of 12 on 3-pointers. But the Wildcats found their touch in the second half, shooting 11 of 22 from the field.
Despite their struggles, the Hoosiers battled back in the second half, taking a 36-35 lead on Evan Gordon’s 3-pointer with 7:35 to play. Hanner Mosquera-Perea had a monstrous block on Abrahamson on the other end, leading to Will Sheehey’s attempted layup for the Hoosiers.
Sheehey was fouled by Demps and hit the floor hard. He spent a few minutes lying under the basket before being helped off the court. He would return later and finished with 2 points.
“I’m going to be all right,” Sheehey said. “I just have bad ankles ... it’s going to be sore.”
With Sheehey hurt, Collins was allowed to pick an Indiana player to shoot Sheehey’s free throws. He chose Mosquera-Perea, a 75-percent free throw shooter.
Mosquera-Perea hit both to give the Hoosiers a 38-35 lead with 7:15 to play.
Demps then hit a 3-pointer to tie the game, and scored on Northwestern’s next possession to put the Wildcats up 40-38.
Ferrell hit two free throws to tie the game again, but Demps hit another 3-pointer, then converted Ferrell’s missed jumper into a driving basket of his own to make it 45-40 with 2:24 to play.
All told, Demps scored all 13 of Northwestern’s points in a stretch that took them from down 38-35 to ahead 48-42.
“They were setting high ball screens and he was coming off,” Ferrell said of Demps. “He hit some tough shots against us.”
Collins stuck with Demps despite a first half in which the redshirt sophomore scored 2 points on 1-of-5 shooting. He was 5-of-7 in the second half.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s me or (Alex) Olah or anybody, he’s going to have our backs,” Demps said of Collins.
The scoring output was Indiana’s lowest since Feb. 25, 2010, when the Hoosiers lost 78-46 to Wisconsin.