The Illinois Fighting Illini (14-5, 7-2 Big Ten) travel to Welsh-Ryan Arena to face the Northwestern Wildcats (9-8, 2-6 Big Ten) Saturday afternoon. This will be the first of two meetings this season. And if it’s anything like last year’s game in Evanston, it’s going to be bizarre.
Let’s travel back in time to Jan. 7, 2021.
Illinois won this game 81-56. That on its own wouldn’t be a completely odd result — the Illini were a top-15 team and had two of the Big Ten’s best players in Kofi Cockburn and Ayo Dosunmu, while the Wildcats were continuing to rebuild following an 8-win season the year prior. But it’s how the game played out that was truly confounding.
The Illini struggled in the first half and found themselves trailing 43-28 at intermission. So, if you’re trying to do the arithmetic in your head, that means Illinois outscored Northwestern by FORTY points — 53-13 — in the second half. This wasn’t against Lindenwood or Chicago State or The Citadel, this was against a Big Ten foe and in-state rival.
It was one of the most astounding turnarounds you’ll ever see:
- Illinois shot 35% in the first half, and 59% in the final 20 minutes.
- Northwestern shot 51.6% (16-of-31) in the opening half. Conversely, the Wildcats shot an almost-impossible 8.3% from the floor after halftime — two made field goals on 27 attempts.
- Four Illini (Kofi, Ayo, Adam Miller, Trent Frazier) finished in double-figures. Robbie Beran (11) was the only double-digit scorer for Northwestern.
- The Wildcats totaled 13 points and 12 rebounds in the second half as a team. Kofi totaled 13 points and 10 rebounds in the second half by himself.
This game was one of many highlights of Illinois’ entertaining 2020-21 season. It’s highly unlikely that we’ll see another contest like that on Saturday, but we can always revel in the absurdity of last year’s win versus Chicago’s Big Ten Team.