It wasn’t pretty, not by a long shot. The Illinois Fighting Illini and Northwestern Wildcats engaged in a full on knock down, drag out battle tonight at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, and when it was all said and done only the Wildcats beat the referee’s 10 count back to their feet.
Illinois fell to 13-4, and 2-2 in the Big Ten, with the loss. Northwestern improved to 8-9, and 1-3 in the Big Ten, with the victory.
The Wildcats were led in scoring by Drew Crawford’s 13 points, but it was reserve guard Tre Demps that stole the show by converting 3 consecutive 3 point baskets in the second half, rejuvenating the Wildcats after Illinois had battled back to tie the game at 34 all. Demps finished the game with 11 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists.
While Northwestern had 3 players finish in double digits, Illinois didn’t. Only Tracy Abrams was able to break the 10 point mark as he finished the game with 13 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals. As a team, Illinois shot 28.1% from the floor (18-64), including 21.1% from 3 point land (4-19). Despite nothing falling from beyond the arc, Illinois just kept right on heaving them up. As the saying goes, “live by the three, die by the 3″, and tonight it was the 3 pointer that cost them dearly.
For the second consecutive game the Illini won the rebounding battle while hauling in 40 boards (14 offensive) to Northwestern’s 36, but many of those offensive rebounds ended up once again being missed putbacks. This is a troubling trend, but certainly not one that can’t be fixed.
The Fighting Illini return home to the State Farm Center Wednesday night to face the Purdue Boilermakers at 8 PM CST.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @RPKraemer.