EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern coach Chris Collins said instincts told him it was time to give little-used guard James Montgomery a shot on Saturday.
In his first start of the season, the Wildcat senior was the defensive standout as Northwestern snapped a three-game losing streak with a 51-35 nonconference victory over Western Michigan at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
"The guy was all over the court," Collins said. "He didn't score a point, but he was probably the most important part of us winning. He dove on the floor about three or four times for loose balls, he pressured the ballhandler and set the tone for our whole defense."
Montgomery, who had logged just 13 minutes in six games entering Saturday, made the most of his nine minutes.
"We needed some energy in the lineup," Collins said. "My instincts told me to give him a chance. I wanted him to guard the point guard and I wanted him to set the tone with his defense."
The Wildcats held the Broncos to less than half their scoring average of 75.7 points and to a season-low 24.4 percent shooting (10 of 41).
"We could not have played worse," Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins said. "I don't remember playing this poorly offensively and I've been at Western 14 years. Some of that certainly you can give credit to Chris (Collins) and his staff.
"The game was lopsided. They deserved to win in a lopsided way, and we deserved to lose in a lopsided way the way we played."
Forward Drew Crawford scored 15 points and guard JerShon Cobb added 11 as Northwestern won for the first time since Nov. 25.
Center Alex Olah added 10 points as the Wildcats (5-5) pulled away in the second half and twice opened leads of 20 points.
Center Shayne Whittington had 12 points and 10 rebounds while guard David Brown added 10 points as the Broncos (5-3) were held to a season-low offensive output.
Northwestern also scored its fewest points of the season and shot just 32.7 percent (18 of 55) from the field. But the Wildcats also gave up the least amount against any foe since Nov. 23, 2012, when they allowed just 31 against TCU.
The Wildcats opened a 6-0 lead in the opening 2:29 and never gave it up. The Wildcats used a 12-2 run to make it 20-6 while the Broncos went scoreless for nearly five minutes.
The Broncos trailed 24-12 at halftime after shooting just 23.5 percent (4 of 17) and 0 for 6 on 3-pointers and committing 10 turnovers. The Wildcats were marginally better, hitting 11 of 33 (33 percent) while missing all 11 3-point tries.
Crawford's 3-pointer and Cobb's two free throws and layup helped Northwestern extend the second-half lead to 31-13 by the 14:32 mark, its largest of the day to that point.
Crawford's 3-pointer with 7:56 to play pushed the Wildcat margin to 20 at 41-21.
But offensive production took a backseat to defensive play on Saturday.
"We've been struggling defensively in the last few games and we really wanted to make sure we came out and attacked them on defense," Crawford said. "And that's something we hadn't been able to do."
The Broncos are idle until next Sunday when they visit Missouri. The Wildcats are off for final exams and next play on Dec. 16 at home against Mississippi Valley State.
NOTES: The Broncos and Wildcats have met 27 times and Northwestern owns 12 straight wins since 1955. Western Michigan was the first opponent when McGaw Hall (now Welsh-Ryan Arena) opened on Dec. 2, 1952. The Broncos won 95-79. ... F Connor Tava earned MAC West player of the week honors after averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds in two wins last week. ... Northwestern's Crawford is the Big Ten's active leading scorer with 1,535 points. He's eighth in school history. After missing most of last season with injuries, he leads the Wildcats in points (14.6) and rebound average (7.1). ... After sitting out all of last season, Cobb has come back strong with a 13.9-point average through nine games, second on the team. ... Northwestern is last among Big Ten teams in scoring average (68.4 points), winning margin (0.2 points) and offensive rebounds (8.8).