Strong shooting from Shurna leads to Wildcats win over Illinois

John Shurna proved why he is the top scorer in the Big Ten.

The Northwestern men’s basketball senior guard recorded a game-high 24 points, including 17 in the second half, as Northwestern edged out Illinois 74-70 at the Assembly Hall on Sunday.

“In the second half, (Shurna) took over, he’s a senior,” Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody said. “We sort of ran some things for him and he just got it done.”

Shurna, who leads the conference with an average of 19.4 points per game, shot 8-of-9 in the second half. Northwestern (14-8, 4-6 Big Ten) also recorded nine layups in the second half. Weber said Illinois’ defense seemed to lag close behind.

“They always had us on our heels, and they made shots,” Weber said. “They seemed to always be a step ahead of us, making the right cut, making the right play. We know what they do better than anybody and we’ve stopped it. Today, we didn’t stop it.”

Illinois (16-7, 5-5) grabbed its first lead of the game early in the second half, but Northwestern came back with 7:42 left as both teams continued to exchange baskets. The Wildcats, however, broke free at the five-minute mark and never relinquished their lead.

Brandon Paul led the Illini in points, with 22, and shot 6-of-10 from three, while center Meyers Leonard recorded 21 points and nine rebounds.

Unlike against Michigan State last Tuesday, Illinois depended on its starters. Leonard, Paul and D.J. Richardson played all 40 minutes, while Joe Bertrand was only out for one minute. Weber said he planned on using the bench, but Illinois’ trailing early in the first half forced the Illini to play catch up.

Paul said the blame for the loss doesn’t go to Weber, but on the players.

“Coach Weber might try to take the blame, but it’s on me, Meyers, D.J., Tracy (Abrams), Joe, Sam (Maniscalco) and us who (are) to blame,” Paul said. “We didn’t come out and guard.”

Northwestern also received production from Reggie Hearn, who had a career-high 20 points as the team shot 60 percent and 40 from behind the arc. Illinois shot 54 percent and 45 percent from three. Northwestern also outscored Illinois inside the paint, 36-24.

“Probably one of our best offensive games of the year,” Weber said. “In a low possession game, we just gave them too many points in the paint, too many layups, too many break downs. That’s one thing we’ve done so well over the years is guard them.”

This was Illinois’ second loss at home this season after losing to Wisconsin on Jan. 22. The loss comes immediately after the Illini upset No. 5 Michigan State at home and puts them tied for fifth-place in the Big Ten. Illinois now goes on a two-game road trip. Four of its next five games are on the road.

“Now we have to stay together and see if we can find a game on the road to maybe have somebody come up and make shots,” Weber said.