Rich McBride and the Illini defense made sure that the flashbacks stayed as a bad memory.
Illinois rolled to an early 15-3 lead on 2 McBride triples and a pair of dunks, and the Illini defense held Northwestern to 40% shooting for the game, enroute to a 63-47 victory Wednesday night at Assembly Hall. The 13th ranked Illini (21-4, 7-4) allowed the Wildcats several opportunities to get back into the game, and Northwestern tied the game at 29 early in the second half before back-to-back 3's by Dee Brown gave the Illini a working margin that would never be erased.
"We're happy to win, obviously. You have to give them some credit. When Vukusic is out, it happens all the time, your best player goes out, someone else steps up, I think they play loosey-goosey." Said Illinois head coach Bruce Weber. "We really struggle with getting off to great starts. It's almost like, as a coach, you don't want to. I know that sounds crazy, but we have not dealt with early leads very well, and once they made the little run we got very tentative. It's happened before, it's almost like we're playing on eggshells. Too many turnovers in the first half, and probably some questionable threes."
McBride's early threes were not questionable, and he went on to lead the Illini in scoring by hitting 6-10 shots, 4-8 from behind the stripe, to end up with 17 points. Dee Brown added 16, but went 2-8 from deep. Brian Randle added 10 points and 8 rebounds in 37 minutes (a career high), and Warren Carter had a very nice game, with 10 points and 4 rebounds in 20 minutes of playing time.
Mohamed Hachad led the Wildcats with 17 points. Reserve Vince Scott hit all 3 of his 3-point attempts, his first 3-pointers of the season.
"As a coach I'd rather win by 40 and play everyone, but I think this one will help us. I'm just talking about one game at a time right now….if we can just get through Sunday, then we can start talking about more games," said Coach Weber.
The Illini carried a 27-20 lead into halftime, and the Wildcats made a quick run to tie the game at 16:53. Brown's 3 pointers, dunks by Augustine and Carter, and a McBride basket quickly pushed the lead back out to 13. Northwestern clos to 3 on 2 of Scott's 3-pointers and a 3 by Craig Moore, then the Illini closed out the game with a 14-0 run that included the highlight play of the night, a tip dunk by Brian Randle on a missed Dee Brown jumper. "I was in position to get an offensive rebound," laughed James Augustine. "I looked up, and all of a sudden the ball disappeared, and Brian was standing in front of me, and I knew what happened."
"They were talking a little trash sometimes," said Randle. "Doyle tried to be smart and told me to punch my hand through some glass. Needless to say, when I got the dunk, I said something back to him."
The win puts the Illini in a tie for 3rd place in the B10, ½ game behind Wisconsin, and a game and a half behind Iowa. The Illini will face Indiana on Sunday, the first game for the Hoosiers since the announcement Wednesday night of the pending resignation of Indiana head coach Mike Davis. "You've got Coach Davis resigning tonight, and you know they're going to rally around him. We'll see how they react."
"I feel bad for him. As a young coach, I wanted guys to lose jobs. The longer you're in it, you feel for them, because it could be you. You see your friends go down, and know it could be you. You win, it's easy. You don't win at a high level program, it becomes very difficult, and it takes a toll on you mentally."
1) This was the 17th game in 21 victories that the Illini won by double digits.
2) Northwestern's 47 points were the fewest allowed by the Illini in the B10 season.
3) Rich McBride scored 12 points in the first 11 minutes tonight.
4) Rich has led the team in scoring 2 out of the last 3 games.
5) Illinois shot 85% from inside the arc in the second half.
6) Illinois shot 55.8% from the field for the game, the best shooting percentage of the year.
7) Illinois outrebounded Northwestern 30-17.
8) Dee Brown tied Kendall Gill for 2nd place on the all-time steals list by adding 2 tonight.