Right now, it couldn't get much better.
Nine of Demps' 11 arrived in a crucial stretch midway through the second half. The once-maligned sophomore hit three consecutive shots from behind the arc, extending the Wildcats' lead to 43-36. And from there, they held on.
The win, however, was about more than one individual performance. NU committed to a stifling defensive effort, closing out on perimeter looks. The Fighting Illini shot a miserable 28 percent, with leading scorer Rayvonte Rice making just two of his 11 field goal attempts.
Only six players saw significant action for Northwestern, with starting point guard Dave Sobolewski (concussion) out for the game. Without Sobolewski, frankly, the Wildcats were much more cohesive on the offensive end — establishing solid looks for Demps and Jershon Cobb. Add in the defensive gain from starting Kale Abrahamson, and you're looking at a lineup that finally made sense.
Alex Olah added nine points and seven rebounds, providing the solid interior presence this team needed. Despite some offensive struggles – the team shot a middling 37 percent – NU's "four-around-one" attack was successful enough for them to win.
After looking as though they might not win once in the Big Ten, the Wildcats knocked off a ranked opponent at home with their best player largely absent. He closed the game with key free throws, but went just 2-of-8 in the winning effort.
But Collins' first Big Ten win is a sweet one. NU was blown out in three consecutive games, yet kept it together and knocked off an elite rival. Forget the context; this one stands alone. Northwestern 49, Illinois 43, a memorable day for the right reasons.