EVANSTON, Ill. — In the past few years, Illinois has dominated the rivalry against in-state rival Northwestern. That changed Wednesday night.
The problems exhibited by Brad Underwood’s squad over the past month haven’t gotten any better, as Chase Audige’s 19 points led a balanced Northwestern attack en route to a dominant 73-60 win over Illinois on Wednesday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Both teams started off slow, but Northwestern’s aggressive play gave them the edge in the first half, as the Wildcats held a 31-27 lead going into the break. Audige led the way with 13 points, while Illini sixth man Jayden Epps kept them in the game with 9 points of his own.
All night long Northwestern was more aggressive on both sides of the ball. Out-rebounding the Illini 22-15, the Wildcats had a much more aggressive shot selection as well. They shot 10 free throws in the first half, while the Illini (9-5, 0-3 Big Ten) failed to shoot a single free throw until midway through the second half.
Underwood has led Illinois teams of years’ past to many second-half comebacks, and a 10-2 run out of the locker room made it look like we would see another one Wednesday.
However, the 37-33 lead didn’t last long. Northwestern (11-3, 2-1 Big Ten) responded with the same level of intensity exhibited in that first half, and the result was a 27-8 run to take the lead by 15.
Nine second-half turnovers prevented Illinois from fighting back into the game, and whenever the score was brought back to single digits, Northwestern’s continued penetration into the paint gave the team the cushion needed to secure the win.
Chris Collins’ aggressive play style paid dividends in the free throw numbers, as Northwestern’s 32 made free throws more than quadrupled Illinois’ amount of 6.
Careless play, passive shot selection and sloppy defense summed up yet another night where the Illini looked lifeless. In rivalry games so far this season, the opponents have been consistently more aggressive and make all the extra plays, and tonight only added to the theme.
Illinois’ Matthew Mayer had a team-high 17 points, but it was nowhere near enough to triumph over its in-state rival. The Illini now move to 0-3 in conference play, joining Minnesota and Iowa in last place in the Big Ten.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
EARLY FOULS: After his first career start against Bethune-Cookman yielded positive results, Sencire Harris was in the starting lineup again on Wednesday. However, Harris’s playing time was impressively brief, as he recorded two fouls in a matter of 24 seconds. The Illini’s best defender didn’t come back into the game until the second half.
GAME-CHANGING TECH: After taking a 37-33 lead, Harris received a technical foul for talking trash to Chase Audige. At a point where Illinois had its most momentum in the entire game, Northwestern took advantage of the quick change by getting back to the same level of intensity. Subsequently, the Wildcats dominated the rest of the game.
SECOND-HALF STARS: Wildcat guards Boo Buie and Ty Berry were non-existent in the first half, but both were offensive leaders in the final 20 minutes en route to 13 points apiece.
NONEXISTENT: Skyy Clark played 20 minutes but only scored two points on 1-6 shooting, while his plus minus was a team-worst -16.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Illinois’ first basket came with a BANG!
Block ➡️ SLAM❗@DDainja x @IlliniMBB pic.twitter.com/jUjesrLltj— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) January 5, 2023
- This win is Northwestern’s first in the rivalry since Jan. 6, 2019. Illinois had won eight straight before Wednesday night.
- Boo Buie attempted 10 free throws, making 9 of them. The entire Illinois team only attempted 10 free throws as well, making only 6.
- The 0-3 start in Big Ten play is the first time Illinois has lost its first three Big Ten games since the 2018-19 season. That team finished the season at 7-13 in conference play.
TWEET OF THE GAME
does this guy still have eligibility https://t.co/en0urVR6wI— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) January 5, 2023
The Illini look for their first win in Big Ten play when they travel back home to face Wisconsin on Saturday.
The game is for 12:30 p.m. on ESPN2.