Rapid Reaction: NW 68, Illinois 54

CHAMPAIGN - A closer look at the Illinois-Northwestern game, a 68-54 win by the Wildcats.

CHAMPAIGN - Illinois lost to Northwestern 68-54 Thursday, dropping it's third straight game and falling to 1-4 in Big Ten play.

Brandon Paul paced the Illini with a game-high 21 points and Tracy Abrams added 10. No other Illini player reached double figures.

It was over when: The Wildcats pushed the lead back into double figures with less than four minutes to play. The Illini made a charge to get the score to 50-41 after a Tracy Abrams jumper. Wildcats forward Jared Swopshire answered, hitting a shot and drawing a foul. He made the free throw, giving Northwestern a 53-41 lead and securing the game.

Illinois player of the game: Paul. One of but a few bright spots for the Illini, Paul shot 9-of-17 from the field, but also had five turnovers.

Northwestern player of the game: Reggie Hearn. The senior guard scored 18 points, 10 of which came in the first 10 minutes of the game, while only taking seven shots from the field. He added five free throws and was a calming influence down the stretch each time the Illini tried to mount a comeback.

Silver lining: Tyler Griffey. The senior forward came off the bench for the first time this season, replaced in the starting lineup by Sam McLaurin. Griffey responded, notching six points, six rebounds and two steals in 23 minutes of action.

Stat of the game: Turnovers. The Illini turned the ball over 18 times, which led to 14 Northwestern points. The Wildcats, meanwhile, finished with 15 turnovers, but had only five in the first half. The ball security and efficiency on offense led to a 36-21 lead at the break.

Stat of the game 2: Three-point shooting. Once again Illinois struggled to shoot from deep, finishing 3-of-20 (15 percent). The trend of poor shooting began around Christmas, with the results of games taking a similar downward turn.

The takeaway: The Illini aren't playing well. And with three straight losses by double digits, this team doesn't have the same look or feel as the squad that won in Maui and Gonzaga and beat down Ohio State. This weekend's trip to Nebraska becomes ever important. Lose that one and it won't be just a ranking in the AP Poll that Illinois will lose. A trip to the NCAA Tournament will also be in serious danger of not happening. Look at the schedule -- it doesn't get any easier after this weekend. The team must be more aggressive from the tip, play with more killer instinct on defense and figure out these shooting woes soon.

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