EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) Chris Collins usually can depend on his team to be sharp mentally. But the Northwestern coach doesn't believe that was the case early in Sunday night's game.
Tre Demps tied his career-high with 23 points and Northwestern shrugged off a sluggish start for a 77-35 rout of Chicago State.
''Playing right after final exams can be a challenge, especially when you're at a school like ours,'' Collins said. ''I thought we were a little bit brain dead in the first half offensively.''
That was until Demps - who was 9 for 18 from the field (including 5 of 10 on 3-pointers) - got things going. The fifth-year senior also scored 23 in three previous games, the last being in February against Indiana. Nathan Taphorn also had 11 points for Northwestern.
Devon Friend led Chicago State (3-8) with 12 points.
''I'd like to apologize for the showing,'' Cougars coach Tracy Dildy said. ''We're a much better team than a team that loses by that many points.''
The Wildcats (8-1) have won five straight and are off to their best start since also winning eight of nine to start the 2010-11 season
It was Northwestern's first game in eight days. The Wildcats hadn't played since an 81-56 win over SIU-Edwardsville on Dec. 5.
The long layoff was apparent early as Chicago State jumped out to a 5-0 lead and Northwestern didn't connect on its first field goal until four minutes and 32 seconds into the game.
The Wildcats, though, quickly gained control. After falling behind by five points early, they limited Chicago State to just 10 points the remainder of the first half. Northwestern led 31-15 at halftime paced by Demps' 13 points.
Chicago State scored the first basket of the second half to pull within 14, but the Wildcats scored the next 15 points to open up a 46-17 lead with just under 15 minutes left.
Chicago State was held to 15 of 60 (25 percent) shooting for the game. Northwestern was 18 of 30 (60 percent) in the second half.
''What I loved tonight was our defense,'' Collins said.
Chicago State: The Cougars beefed up their non-conference schedule this season by playing most of the major Illinois schools. Besides Northwestern, they have faced Illinois, Northern Illinois and DePaul. They've also played Valparaiso, which is near the state line in northwest Indiana.
Northwestern: Demps entered the game in 24th place on the Wildcats' all-time scoring list and moved all the way up to 21st place. Demps now has 1,160 points, passing Frank Ehmann (1,145), Brian Schwabe (1,150) and Andre Goode (1,155).
VAN ZEGEREN INJURY
Collins announced after the game that C Joey Van Zegeren, a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech, is out with a ''stress-related'' foot injury and will be sidelined for a couple of weeks. ''Hopefully, he'll be back for the start of the Big Ten season,'' the coach said.
Northwestern's first league game is Dec. 30 at Nebraska.
Northwestern has never made the NCAA tournament, but Dildy believes that will change this season.
''Northwestern is a great ballclub,'' the Chicago State coach said. ''They're a dangerous team for the Big Ten. I can tell you this, I'll go on record - that is an NCAA tournament team. I can guarantee you that.''
Chicago State plays at Minnesota on Wednesday.
Northwestern hosts Mississippi Valley State on Tuesday.