"It was going to be a grinder. I knew that coming in," Collins said after NU knocked off Purdue in double-overtime. "Our kids were resilient. I'm so proud of our guys and I really mean that. Who we've become in the last week...I don't know what the analytics say. I just know we won."
That win is something of a novelty. The Wildcats had lost seven straight conference games that went to overtime before Tuesday. They hadn't won three of four in the Big Ten since February 2012. If there's one thing Northwestern fans hang their hats on, it's that their team historically can't carry momentum, and struggles to win the close game.
It did just that Tuesday, and every time we saw a glimpse of an excusable relapse of fatigue against one of the best rebounding teams in the country, the Cats snapped out of it and played with newfound intensity. With no point guard and both centers fouled out, Northwestern still out-hustled Purdue. This is why you bring in a new coach.
"It shows toughness. We just hung in there," Collins said. "I don't know how else to describe it. Everyone knows we have a tough time scoring. That's not going to change. But our guys are learning how to win these kind of games. My main goal this year was to make us a hard-nosed, blue-collar, scrappy team that fights. I promise that these guys are going to fight."
Cobb's leg was cramping toward the end of the game, but didn't miss a step as NU's longest game since 2003 dragged on. Northwestern didn't have a single lead for the first 45 minutes of the game, but didn't even feel like much of an underdog against a much larger Boilermakers team. Crawford acknowledged that things aren't aesthetically pleasing right now, but Northwestern doesn't have the personnel to compete in high-scoring games right now.
"In past games, we were fighting, but we were having lapses where we gave up runs or let back a bit," Crawford said. "Now we're playing for a full 40 minutes, in this case 50. We're finishing games, we're playing hard. From the start, Coach Collins wanted us to be a team that always fights back."
Collins has fully installed a culture of competitiveness that's blind to mismatches, stat sheets and first-year expectations. Tuesday's game was the type of game that would have been lost in any other season. In 2013-14, the close games are starting to feel more comforting, and the battle-tested Wildcats are becoming more likable by the day.
"All you want to do is play hard for him," Demps said.
What else can you ask for?