Everyone loves a close game. A thriller where everyone is on the edge of their seat at the end. It’s a good thing for the game. But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. The Illini (14-5,11-3 Big Ten) are in dire need of a nice, comfortable blowout. It should have come tonight against a floundering Northwestern (6-12, 3-12 Big Ten) team that had lost 11 in a row.
The Illini however, made it a game. They allowed the Wildcats to hang around and even come within one point late in the game. It was then that, you guessed it, Ayo Dosunmu once again decided he had seen enough and took over hitting three huge shots down the stretch. The Illini have a bad habit of playing down to their opponent. This can be seen several times throughout the season. Ohio, Indiana, Nebraska and Northwestern were all games the Illini could have won comfortably. They were all close games even needing overtime to beat Indiana and Nebraska.
The converse can be said as well. When the games against Duke, Iowa and Wisconsin came along, the Illini showed up and played a great game. Winning in the Big Ten is never easy whether you’re playing the first place team or the last place one. Dosunmu said it best “The Big Ten top to bottom is very good” and the Illini’s win tonight proves they belong in the top tier of Big Ten teams.
Kofi Cockburn led the line for Illinois tonight going for 17 points and 10 rebounds. Dosunmu started slow but came alive when it counted and finished with 13 points and five assists. Giorgi Bezhanishvili and Adam Miller both chipped in 10 points for the Illini.
The Wildcats were led by Chase Audige who exploded out of a relative scoring slump to the tune of 22 points and five rebounds. Pete Nance, son of Larry Nance, had 14 points and six rebounds in the loss.
Once again it was the plays that don’t show up in the stat sheet that got it done for the Illini tonight. Down the stretch when it looked like Northwestern could potentially take the lead, seniors Da’Monte Williams and Trent Frazier stepped up with rock solid defense and heads up plays to save possessions. Williams also drew the fifth and final foul on Boo Bouie which proved to be a turning point in the game. “He’s a team first guy” Brad Underwood said on Williams “He gives us tremendous leadership, understanding and IQ off the bench”
With this win, the Illini now have six in a row and, despite some shaky performances, are rolling and making a charge for the Big Ten title. It has been said in the past that there is no such thing as a bad win and that is true. Pretty or ugly, the Illini are racking up wins and with it, experience. With the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament looming on the horizon, the team seems locked in and ready to make a deep run in March; something that Illini fans everywhere are dying to see.