Chris Collins entered his post game press conference to applause.
Some well-wishers in the back of the interview room — among them Chris' father, famous NBA coach Doug Collins — decided the occasion deserved a little fanfare. You only get your first Big Ten win once.
Collins' Wildcats pulled off a shocking upset win over the 23rd-ranked Illini on Sunday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena, and afterwards, Collins was feeling good.
"It was big for our program," Collins said. "We're in Year 1, we're trying to establish ourselves. Any time you can beat a top-25 team on your home floor in Year 1, it's a big step in the right direction."
Program-building is the main task for Collins, just a few months into his tenure as the head man in Evanston. He inherited a Northwestern program that was one of the Big Ten's weakest. It still remains that way, as the Cats came into Sunday night's tilt as the conference's worst, record-wise. Northwestern had fallen in its first three Big Ten contests to Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa. Despite the strong competition, the games were all blowout losses.
But a win over a team looking to be one of the conference's best will certainly help boost confidence for the people wearing purple and white.
"It's not about me getting confidence, it's about our players playing with confidence and about us getting them in the right positions to play well," Collins said. "So it doesn't really affect my confidence either way. It's more for my guys. After losing three games the way we did, you can get down. Iowa and Wisconsin are two of the very best teams in the country, and in the Michigan game, we were there for 30 minutes. I actually was a little more encouraged the more I see Wisconsin and Iowa killing every team they play, it doesn't make me feel as bad."
What will make him feel even better is this Northwestern win. A stunner, sure, but despite a horrid night of shooting from the Illini, the Cats played excellent on the defensive end and got big contributions on both ends from guards JerShon Cobb and Tre Demps. Cobb was filling in at the point for an injured Dave Sobolewski, and Demps came off the bench to provide the Cats with their biggest shots of the night: three huge 3's to put Northwestern on top for good in the later stages of the second half.
If Collins' arrival has marked the start of "A NU Era," then Sunday's win was the first Big Ten win for this group of players, too. And that's what Collins wanted to focus on.
"There are milestones as coaches: your first win, your first league win. But I really don't want this to be about me because I wasn't the guy out there. They were," he said. "It's about Drew Crawford. It's about JerShon Cobb. It's about (Alex) Olah. It's about (Tre Demps). It's about (Kale) Abrahamson, (Nikola Cerina), those guys that played the heavy minutes tonight. When we end the season and I look back and look back on winning that first game here at home against a really good team like Illinois, I'll feel great about it. But I really want to celebrate for my guys because I know how much they've been through."