PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) In the midst of a potentially disastrous scoring drought, the Northwestern players did not think about how bad their offense was performing, but of how good their defense was.
Despite going 10:16 without a point late in the game, the Wildcats survived as Bryant McIntosh scored 17 points and hit the game-sealing free throws for a 51-47 win over Rutgers on Tuesday.
Tre Demps added 16 points and seven rebounds for Northwestern (10-4, 1-0 Big Ten), which won its fourth straight despite scoring just seven points in the final 10:45.
It was the Wildcats' first victory in a conference opener since beating Purdue in the 2005-06 season.
''I knew we were struggling offensively but I wasn't really thinking about the drought,'' said McIntosh, a freshman. ''I was just thinking if we're not gonna hit shots and turn the ball over we have to get stops and finish the plays with rebounds. That was the main thing we were focused on.''
Demps felt the win was typical of how success comes in the Big Ten.
''This is a grind-it-out league,'' the junior said. ''We want to be a defensive team built on just getting stops. When your MO is your defense, and I think that's what we're becoming, it doesn't let you lose your mojo.''
Myles Mack had 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists for the Scarlet Knights (8-6, 0-1), who were playing their inaugural game as a member of the Big Ten.
Northwestern took its largest lead at 44-35 on McIntosh's lay-up with 10:45 remaining. The Wildcats then went cold, but Rutgers could only close to within 44-41 with 1:38 left. The Knights had a chance to tie but missed a 3-pointer and three straight follow attempts.
After Rutgers' Bishop Daniels made 1 of 2 from the line to make it 47-44 with 15.5 left, McIntosh took an inbounds pass and quickly threw an outlet to Demps, who scored on a layup with 9 seconds remaining. It was a key play as the Wildcats had missed the front end of three straight 1-and-1's during their scoring drought.
Daniels' 3-pointer got Rutgers within 49-47 with 6 seconds left, but McIntosh made two foul shots with 1.3 remaining to clinch it.
Collins called the win ''Northwestern basketball.''
''We had a tough time scoring, we missed three straight 1-and-1's and our guys just kept fighting on defense and we just kept on getting stops,'' Collins said. ''That's what I was most proud of. I thought that our guys stayed together and were mentally strong.''
Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan felt the same way about his players, who he said ran the right plays but could not make shots.
''I'm proud of my guys, I like what they did,'' said Jordan, whose team opened a 16-8 lead but trailed the entire second half. ''You can't force the ball to go in the basket.''
Northwestern shot 39 percent and committed 15 turnovers, while Rutgers shot 30.2 percent overall and 26.7 percent in the second half.
Northwestern: After the Wildcats went 18 for 18 from the foul line in a win over Northern Kentucky Saturday, they were just 12 of 18 against the Knights. ... JerShon Cobb, who has battled various injuries, played for the first time in six games and had six points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes. ... Northwestern has won five of the six meetings between the teams, with its only loss coming in the last meeting on Dec. 27, 2003.
Rutgers: Second leading scorer and leading rebounder Kadeem Jack did not start due to being late for a team breakfast. Jack had just two points and four rebounds while shooting 0 for 8. ... The Knights suffered their first loss in four conference debut games. They defeated Pittsburgh in 1976 in the Eastern Collegiate Basketball League, which evolved into the Atlantic 10. They defeated Notre Dame in their Big East debut in 1995 and won their American Athletic Conference opener over Temple last season
Rutgers: Hosts Penn State on Saturday.
Northwestern: Hosts No. 4 Wisconsin on Sunday.