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Illinois escapes Northwestern at home, 75-71

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This one was too close for comfort.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — In a week filled with upsets, Trent Frazier and Ayo Dosunmu made sure the No. 24 Illinois wasn’t up next.

The Illini (13-5, 5-2) just outlasted their in state rival Northwestern (6-11, 1-6) 75-71, on Saturday afternoon at the State Farm Center in Champaign.

“There are no upsets in this league anymore,” said Illinois head coach Brad Underwood. “Every win is a great win.”

Illinois didn’t look like it had a week to prepare for this game. The offense seemed to recover from a terrible shooting performance against Rutgers, but the defense looked sluggish and occasionally would look lost and give up open looks at the basket.

“We had the curse of a week off, which can be a good thing or a bad thing,” Underwood said. “We haven’t been very good with it this year.”

The Illini struggled at times to get Kofi Cockburn touches. Illinois couldn’t crack the Northwestern zone defense that kept the guards from driving and letting Cockburn and Bezhanishvili from dominating the boards. Slow ball movement around the perimeter only compounded the Illini’s struggles.

A pivotal part of the impressive Big Ten run has been the fantastic play from Ayo Dosunmu. In the first half, he was nowhere to be seen, only scoring once on a corner three. With the absence of their star, it was clear that Illinois needed someone to step up.

Trent Frazier stepped up. Frazier’s 11-point first half kept Illinois in the game against a determined Wildcat team.

“We need his offense,” said Underwood. “That’s the next level for us, being able to shoot the basketball and for [Trent] to get going.”

Illinois was able to exploit the Northwestern zone in the second half. Once Illinois broke their zone it was clear that it was now Ayo’s job to step up. Both Giorgi and Kofi were able to get more touches and a corner three from Bezhanishvili gave Illinois its largest lead with five minutes left. Pressure defense from Trent Frazier gave the ball right back to Illinois and two free throws from Ayo kept the game at nine.

A three from A.J. Turner brought the Wildcats within three points with 44 seconds left but a clutch 19 foot jumper from Ayo with 18 seconds sealed the Illinois victory, 75-71.

“It’s all about seizing the moment,” said Dosunmu. “You can’t let the moment get bigger than you.”

Moments That Mattered

Trent Frazier 1,000 point mark: It was clear from the strat that this was Trent Frazier’s game. His impressive 11 points in the first half combined with his second half hussle kept No. 24 Illinois from losing to Northwestern. Congratulations Trent.

Sound Smart

Tweet of the Game

Who’s Next

The Illini travel to West Lafayette to take on Purdue (10-8, 3-4) next Tuesday. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. CT and will be televised on ESPNU.