Rapid Recap: Illinois 74, Northwestern 69 OT


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Dererk Pardon dribbles the ball during Northwestern’s last game at the United Center, in 2019. The United Center is slated to host NCAA Regionals in 2022 and 2026.

Ella Brockway, Copy Chief

Men’s Basketball

CHICAGO — And so it ends.

The Wildcats’ 2018-19 season came to an end Wednesday night in a 74-69 overtime loss to Illinois in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament at the United Center.

NU opened the game ice-cold, shooting 3-for-13 from the field and struggling without senior forward and leading scorer Vic Law, who was out with an injury suffered in last Saturday’s loss to Purdue.

The Fighting Illini never had a lead of more than four in the first, and while the Cats never claimed the lead themselves, they did just enough to stay in the game. Despite airballing their final four shots of the half, NU went into halftime down only three points.

A.J. Turner hit a pair of 3-pointers in the opening minutes of the second half to give the Cats some momentum after the break, and Dererk Pardon slammed home an emphatic two-handed dunk to give the Cats their first lead of the night just over three minutes in.

The game was close down to the final seconds of regulation; Turner forced Illinois’ leading scorer, Giorgi Bezhanishvili, to foul out with 17 seconds to go and hit two free-throws to tie the game at 61, and then Illinois missed a layup under the basket with less than two seconds left that would’ve won the Fighting Illini the game.

Aaron Falzon drained a corner three to open the overtime period for the Cats, and then drew a foul on an identical attempt from deep on NU’s next possession. But the Cats missed six 3-pointers in the last few minutes of overtime, and Illinois held on long enough to build a five-point lead and advance to the next round of the conference tournament.


1. The Cats missed Law. It was a common thread this whole season: NU’s ability to defend kept it in games, but its inability to score on the other end kept it from winning the close games. That was no different on Wednesday night; the Cats held the Fighting Illini — who average 73 points a game — to just 30 in the first half, but shot 11-for-34 during that same 20-minute stretch. Even with a hot start to the second, the Cats couldn’t find a solid groove, attempting 28 threes — their most in conference play this season — but converting on only six of them. The Fighting Illini switched to a zone midway through the second half and forced the Cats to miss nine of 10 attempts, and despite a valiant 20-point effort from Turner, NU missed six big attempts from deep in overtime and couldn’t reach the Fighting Illini’s lead.

2. NU had no answer for Giorgi Bezhanishvili. In the game’s first ten minutes of action, Bezhanishvili had scored more points on his own than NU had scored as an entire team. Pardon had no way of stopping him defensively, and managed to score only two points in that time frame against the forward. Things became markedly worse when Pardon went to the bench and junior center Barret Benson checked in — in six minutes, Benson collected three quick fouls. Bezhanishvili finished with a game-high 26 points before fouling out on the game’s penultimate possession in regulation, but the damage had already been done.

3. Miller Kopp had another strong night. After a mostly-quiet January and February, the freshman forward has finally started to show flashes of the shooter he came in as. After scoring 7 points against Purdue last Saturday, the Houston native went off for 11 points and six rebounds against the Fighting Illini, just the third time this season he’s scored in double-digits. His shooting kept the Cats in the game when all was cold in the first half, and NU struggled near the middle of the second without him on the floor. His return next season will help fill the gap in NU’s offensive system left when Law and Pardon graduate this spring.

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