Illini come up victorious in rivalry game against Northwestern
Rivalry games always bring out the best in teams, and for Illinois, that was the case in their home matchup against Northwestern on Sunday.
The Fighting Illini (11-18, 7-11 Big Ten) beat in-state rival Wildcats (12-17, 3-15) 81-76 at the State Farm Center in Champaign. The Illini led by as many as 15 points at one point but finished with just a six-point win.
Northwestern came back from 12 down at the half to make it a five-point game with 1:51 left on the clock.
“The first half, we couldn’t throw it in the ocean,” Northwestern head coach Chris Collins said. “I was really proud of how we played in the second half.”
The Illini finished shooting 21 of 47 from the floor and 6 of 16 from 3-point range. The Illini finished 33 of 38 for 86 percent from the charity stripe.
Second-year head coach Brad Underwood was pleased with his team’s ball movement as well.
“I love that,” Underwood said, referencing the team’s 16 total assists.
Junior guard Andres Feliz finished with a career-high 24 points, including 16 of 17 from the free-throw line. Feliz was in for 29 minutes, constantly playing downhill.
“I was more aggressive,” Feliz said. “And credit to my all teammates; they were able to find me in transition or when I was open.”
Freshman forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili scored 12 points and added seven rebounds, freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu pitched in 12 points as well. Trent Frazier added 11 points and five assists.
Illinois also got quality minutes out of sophomore guard Da’Monte Williams. His stat sheet only showed six points, three assists and a rebound in 16 minutes, but Underwood said his confidence is at a high when Williams is in the lineup.
“He was terrific,” Underwood said “I have so much trust in Da’Monte. I feel so confident with him in the game.”
The Illini outrebounded Northwestern 39-29. Senior forward Aaron Jordan led the Illini with 10 boards.
“People don’t give Aaron Jordan enough credit for the job he does,” Underwood said. “Here’s a guy [who] gets 10 rebounds — [an] undersized player [at] the four [position], just scrapping and fighting.”
The Illini were able to play with pace against a Northwestern team known for its half-court defense.
“We just wanted to get out and push and get easy baskets” Dosunmu said.
Dosunmu also spoke about breaking out of his recent shooting slump.
“When you see something go in, it’s like seeing dollar signs,” Dosunmu said. “I knew I was putting the work in, and I knew eventually it would fall.
The win snapped a three-game Illini losing streak, and the team looks to build some critical momentum heading into the Big Ten tournament.
“It’s March now, so we’re playing like this is our last game,” Dosunmu said. “If we lose, we go home, so we really don’t have anything to lose at this point.
“We just want to come out and play as hard as we can.”
The Wildcats were paced by senior center Dererk Pardon, who finished with 16 points and nine rebounds in 36 minutes of action.
Three other Wildcats finished in double figures. Ryan Taylor and Miller Kopp scored 13 points each, and A.J. Turner finished 12 points.
Illinois hosts Indiana at 7 p.m. Thursday for Senior Night.
Northwestern hosts Ohio State at 8 p.m. on Wednesday.