Updated rapid recap: Illinois men’s basketball beats Northwestern 66-50

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Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Leron Black (12) shoots a three during the game against Northwestern at State Farm Center on Tuesday, February 21.

By Lucas Wright, Staff writer

The Illinois men’s basketball team completed a season sweep over Northwestern with a wire-to-wire 66-50 victory.

The win featured possibly the most well rounded team performance by the Illini all season.

Seven players scored, while the defense held Northwestern to 32.1 percent from the field.

A hot Illini start, sparked by seven quick points from Leron Black opened the first half. Black hit his fourth three-pointer of the year during the sequence on a pick-and-pop feed from Malcolm Hill.

With only nine minutes of play in the first half, Kipper Nichols may have had the biggest impact on the defensive end. Nichols forced three turnovers, including a block leading to a fast-break layup, along with a steal resulting in the same outcome.

Despite some standout plays, the Illini were still plagued by inconsistent offense in the first half, only scoring 33 points and shooting just under 43 percent from the floor.

Where the offense struggled, the defense picked up, as Illinois tallied two blocks and three steals to keep Northwestern at bay. The defensive lockdown held the Wildcat offense to 32 points and gave the Illini a one-point lead at the break.

“We just wanted to make it tough for their better scorers. They have a lot of talented players who can go get baskets for themselves,” Hill said. “We just made it as tough as possible for them to get easy looks off.”

Both teams opened the second half ice cold from the field. After a jumper from the short corner by Black in the opening minute, each team went scoreless from the field through the first TV timeout.

Both teams combined for only 24 points through the first ten minutes of the second half, but a mid-half surge from the Illini propelled them to a double-digit lead with just under seven minutes to play.

The run was highlighted by a Tracy Abrams three from the top of the key, sending Groce, the Illini bench and the State Farm Center into a frenzy.

“I feel like the team is just in the right mindset right now,” Groce said. “They care about one another and they are fighting. The guys were vocal, guys were loud. I could hear them when they were playing, I could hear them in the huddle, and they were really engaged when they were playing.”

From there the Illini closed out the game with solid half-court offense, while holding the Wildcats scoreless for a majority of the final ten minutes.

Black stuffed the stat sheet for Illinois with 11 points and eight rebounds on the night. Hill poured in 18 to lead the offense while adding five rebounds and five assists.

“Hill was great in a lot of different areas for us,” Groce said.

The win moved Illinois to 15-12 overall and 6-9 in conference play on the year, and completed the team’s first back-to-back wins in Big Ten play in nearly two years.

“We’ve been working really hard behind the scenes and now its come to light,” Maverick Morgan said.

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