After a week off, the Illinois Fighting Illini (11-14, 3-9) were in Evanston on Saturday night to battle the Northwestern Wildcats (17-9, 5-8). It was a close contest, but Chris Collins' squad escaped with a narrow 58-56 win in regulation. This was the only scheduled meeting of the year between these two rivals so, barring a meeting in the conference tournament, Northwestern holds bragging rights for the next year.
Kendrick Nunn led the way for Illinois with 13 points on 5-11 shooting. Northwestern's leading scorer was Tre Demps with 18 points.
The first few minutes of play featured both teams missing several wide open jumpers, but Kendrick Nunn and Jalen Coleman-Lands eventually got Illinois on the board with back-to-back 3PT shots. The three-point shot ended up being Illinois' only 'consistent' source of offense all night long.
After the first media timeout Northwestern's sloppy offense settled down and they quickly began finding some easier looks, one of which was a huge dunk by Gavin Skelly off of a pass from Bryant McIntosh. Luckily for Illinois, freshman forward D.J. Williams continued his recent hot streak and kept the team alive with plays on both ends of the floor.
A lot of fans (us included) called for John Groce to experiment with some different rotations, and he did just that on Saturday. The most notable change included sliding Malcolm Hill to point guard while both Jaylon Tate and Khalid Lewis stayed put on the bench. Speaking of Hill -- he dunked the ball! Dunks are fun!
Lewis Hill pic.twitter.com/YZXChyQaUw— IllinoisLoyalty (@IllinoisLoyalty) February 14, 2016
After an ugly first half, Illinois took a 23-21 lead into the break.
The pace of play really picked up after halftime, and both teams were finally hitting their shots. Coleman-Lands' continued to light up the shot chart, hitting several three's including this beautiful step-back.
That's when Tre Demps happened. Out of nowhere, the senior guard hit four-straight 3PT shots to extend Northwestern's lead to six points. The Illini were still able to stay within striking distance for the remainder of the game, but the momentum shifted in such a huge way and it was clear that the Wildcats were probably going to escape with the win.
Down two points with less than five seconds to go, Malcolm Hill had an opportunity to tie the game -- and he did! The only problem is that Northwestern apparently fouled him on the floor, so the shot was waived off. What followed was a horribly executed in-bounds play and the Wildcats won, 58-56.
Tough loss as Hill's would-be tying shot was waved off due to a foul on the floor. pic.twitter.com/SZ4466odmg— Big Ten Geeks (@bigtengeeks) February 14, 2016
Illinois Fighting Illini stats
Northwestern Wildcats stats