Men's Basketball
No. 23 Illini Defeated by Wildcats, 68-54

Nnanna Egwu
Nnanna Egwu

Jan. 17, 2013

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - Northwestern and Illinois were both looking to bounce back from losses Thursday night.

The Wildcats improved, extending No. 23 Illinois' losing streak to three games while handing the Illini a 68-54 home loss that could cost them their Top 25 ranking.

After starting slow against Iowa and never catching up in the 70-50 whipping, Northwestern coach Bill Carmody was looking for a faster start.

The Wildcats (11-7, 2-3 Big Ten) delivered with a barrage of 3-pointers early and 10 points in the first 10 minutes from Reggie Hearn.

"I thought they really came out tonight and played well," Carmody said. "Hearn was very good early. ... If they make shots you're a good coach."

Illinois (14-5, 1-4) has lost five of seven after its 12-0 start and fallen near the bottom of the Big Ten.

"I thought the first 10 minutes they were a juggernaut," Groce said. "I didn't think we did anything whatsoever to be disruptive and take them out of that."

Hearn's hot start included two 3-pointers.

The second of them, buried with just over 10 minutes left in the first half, put the Wildcats up 21-12.

The were 8 of 15 from 3-point range for the game but hit five of them in the first half to build a 36-21 lead.

And Northwestern made 26 of 31 free throws, many of them late with Illinois forced to foul.

The cold-shooting Illini closed within 48-39 on a free throw by Brandon Paul with 4:36 to play. Illinois would get no closer, watching the Wildcats make free throws that Carmody said were the difference down the stretch.

"I think that we were making some foul shots helped and it kept that distance for us," Carmody said.

Jared Swopshire had 12 points and six rebounds for Northwestern, while Alex Marcotullio scored 12 points and Dave Sobolewski added 10 before fouling out late.

Paul had 21 points for Illinois, which shot 38 percent from the field, including going 3 of 20 from 3-point range.

Illinois opened the second half with two things that had been missing in the first, intensity and defensive pressure. Where first-half points sometimes came in easy waves for the Wildcats, early in the second Illinois made them work.

But with the cold shooting - they opened the second half hitting 4 of 11 from the field and were just 1 of 6 from 3-point range - the Illini didn't make up any ground.

Marcotullio's 3-pointer with 12:53 left pushed Northwestern's lead to 45-30, the same 15-point margin they had at halftime.

Paul finally ended a scoreless run of just over 5 minutes for Illinois with a layup with 9:35 left to play, trimming the Wildcats' lead to 45-32.

Swopshire missed both free throws - rare Northwestern misses - but the Wildcats didn't need the points.

From the opening moments, it was not the Illini's night, and there were any number of examples.

There was Nnanna Egwu's big block on Alex Olah's short jumper with 4:25 to play in the first half. With their team already down 30-17, the Illinois crowd seized on the moment, releasing a roar of collective relief. Before the noise had even faded, Olah grabbed the rebound and tucked it into the basket.

And there was the Illini's final first-half possession. Trailing 36-21, they had three chances to cut that lead and pocket something to build on in the final 20 minutes. But three chances yielded three misses, and the team trotted quietly off the court.

Since they upset then-No. 8 Ohio State on Jan. 5, the Illini are 0-3. They have lost by 17 to Minnesota, 23 at Wisconsin and 14 at home to Northwestern.

The Wildcats finished 15 of 51 (29.4 percent) from the field and 5 of 26 from 3-point range in the loss to Iowa.

On Thursday, they made up for it, shooting 47.2 percent from the field. Hearn was 4 of 7 - including 3 of 5 on 3-pointers - and 9 of 10 from the free throw line.

"It's a very good win for us, especially on the road," Carmody said. "I thought our defense was pretty solid and we made shots."

Postgame Notes
1. Illinois sold out Assembly Hall tonight for the third-straight time. It is the fourth-straight game overall in which the Illini played in front of a sellout crowd and theninth time this season. The last time the Illini had at least three consecutive Assembly Hall sellouts was at the end of the 2009-10 regular season, when the Illini sold out the final six home games.

2. Northwestern captured just its sixth victory ever at Assembly Hall out of a total of 45 games. The Illini are 39-6 against the Wildcats at the Hall, winning 28 of the last 31 contests.

3. After using the same starting lineup in each of the first 18 games, John Groce made a personnel change tonight, adding Sam McLaurin to starting five at forward. McLaurin had six points and five rebounds in his first career start for the Orange and Blue.