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Illinois skates past Northwestern in OT, 74-69

Let’s do this thing again tomorrow.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Northwestern vs Illinois David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

THEY DID IT.

The Illini used a strong showing from freshman big man, Giorgi Bezhanishvili, to propel themselves past Northwestern on Wednesday night at the United Center in Chicago, 74-69.

With Northwestern’s leading scorer, Vic Law, declared out for the game on Wednesday evening, the Illini should’ve felt pretty good about their chances of moving on to the next round of the conference tournament. Except everyone not named Giorgi Bezhanishvili moseyed through much of the first period.

Bezhanishvili came to play, but no one else got off the bus for Illinois on Wednesday night. The Georgian poured in 16 points for the Illini in the first half, including the team’s first 14 before Trent Frazier got a three-pointer to go at the 8:54 mark. Despite shooting just 30 percent from the field and ending the half on a three-minute drought, Illinois still held a 30-27 edge at the break.

The Wildcats wouldn’t go down without a fight, however. After scoring on seven of its first eight possessions in the second period, Northwestern found itself with the first lead of the game. The Wildcats did an excellent job of taking care of the ball in the second half, committing just two turnovers. Illinois got 13 second-half points from Trent Frazier and Bezhanishvili contributed a game-high 26, but that wasn’t enough to decide this game after 40 minutes as Illinois and Northwestern headed to overtime tied at 61.

After losing Bezhanishvili with his fifth foul in the final minutes of regulation, the Illini needed someone to step up in extra time. Illinois got big time triples from Ayo Dosunmu and Frazier on back-to-back possessions to put the Illini up as much as five in overtime. Senior Aaron Jordan closed the door on a Northwestern comeback at the free throw line as Illinois escaped, 74-69.

MOMENTS THAT MATTER

  • With less than 20 seconds left to go in the game, Giorgi Bezhanishvili committed his fifth foul of the game, finishing his evening with 26 points on 12-of-15 shooting and four rebounds.
  • Andres Feliz got an open look at a go-ahead layup with 1.5 seconds left on the clock, but couldn’t get it to fall, sending the contest to overtime.

SOUND SMART

TWEET OF THE GAME

WHO’S NEXT

The Illini will get a second chance at Iowa on Thursday night after suffering a 24-point loss to the Hawkeyes earlier this season.

Iowa (21-10, 10-10), the 6-seed in this year’s conference tournament, has dropped its last four games, including a double-digit home loss to Rutgers. Illinois has a real shot at upsetting Fran McCaffrey’s squad and advancing to Day Three of the Big Ten Tournament, but the Illini will have to play much better than they showed against Northwestern.

Tip-off is set for 8:30 p.m. CT.