Rapid Recap: No. 13 Illinois 73, Northwestern 66


Joanne Haner/The Daily Northwestern

Senior forward Pete Nance defends Illinois’ Alonso Plummer. Nance had 10 points and three rebounds in Northwestern’s 73-66 loss to the Illini.

Alex Cervantes, Reporter

Northwestern traveled to hostile territory on Sunday to face No. 13 Illinois, in hopes of securing a fourth consecutive victory.

But the Wildcats’ win streak was snapped short at three, as the Illini emerged victorious 73-66.

NU (12-11, 5-9 Big Ten) was never really in the game in the first half, as Illinois raced out of the gates to a commanding 12-4 advantage at the under-16 timeout. The Illini (18-6, 11-3) continued the momentum out of the break, connecting on five of their first nine attempts from distance and blowing the game wide open. Eight early points from guard Alfonso Plummer led the way for Illinois, which led 23-10 with just over 11 minutes to play in the first half.

The Cats gradually found some rhythm but couldn’t claw back against the prolific Illini offense. Illinois’ barrage continued following a third Plummer 3-pointer which extended the lead to 32-17 at the under-eight timeout. While Plummer and his fellow backcourt mates were draining shots from beyond the arc, presumptive All-American Kofi Cockburn was dominating on the interior with nine points. 

The Plummer-Cockburn show carried Illinois to the intermission with a 44-30 lead over NU. The visiting Cats could do little to slow down the Illini, especially Plummer and Cockburn who combined for 25 points in the first half. Brad Underwood’s side shot 50% from the field and 56.3% from beyond the arc to maintain the advantage at halftime.

Out of the break, Illinois started off cold, missing its first five attempts, but NU was unable to take advantage of its rival’s struggles from the field. A Cockburn baby hook gave the Illini its first bucket of the half at the 17:15 mark. The Cats were 1-for-7 from the field at the under-16 timeout, as Illinois maintained a 14-point advantage.

A quick 9-3 spurt before the under-12 timeout provided NU some much needed hope. Sophomore guard Ty Berry was one of the few sparks offensively for the Cats, providing 16 points on 5-for-8 shooting from the field. 

NU cut the Illinois advantage to five points following a steal and layup by first-year Casey Simmons and then a cross court pass from Berry to junior forward Robbie Beran trimmed the lead to 55-50. Simmons’ second-half minutes proved critical once again as just minutes later he blew up a dribble handoff and dunked the ball to cut the lead to one.

But Cockburn stretched the lead to five points, attacking a Cats frontcourt hampered by foul trouble. 

Despite struggling for much of the night, senior forward Pete Nance and junior guard Boo Buie converted a pair of late buckets to cut the Illini advantage to 69-66. NU was unable to trim the lead any further, falling 73-66.


  • Cockburn’s game opens up opportunities for teammates

When you have an All-American on the roster, you would expect that he is inevitably going to create opportunities for teammates, whether through his own playmaking or by simply being on the floor. For Illinois, Cockburn’s presence is enough to open opportunities for teammates. As NU looked to double and triple team Cockburn in the post, Illini shooters enjoyed and took advantage of the open looks. 

  • Stalwart Illini defense troubles the Wildcats

In their previous meeting on Jan. 29, the Illini held NU to 56 points on 35.7% shooting from the field. In the rematch just over two weeks later, the stalwart Illinois defense remained as the Cats shot 24-for-62 from the field and turned the ball over 13 times. Despite the 19-2 run, the Illini were able to close out the game with some much-needed stops. 

  • Berry and Simmons provide spark as main contributors struggle

Berry, who had fallen into a shooting slump recently, erupted for 16 points and 4-for-6 shooting from 3-point range. Whether in the starting lineup or off the bench, Berry’s ability to knock down perimeter shots remains key for this squad. And as the go-to scorers in Nance, Buie and redshirt junior guard Chase Audige struggled from the field, Berry and Simmons’ second-half production of 16 points got the Cats back in the game. 

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Twitter: @CervantesPAlex 

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