EVANSTON, Ill. - Illinois won it's fourth-straight game on Sunday night, as D.J. Richardson scored 18 points and Tracy Abrams added 13 to defeat in-state rival Northwestern 62-41.
It was over when: Illinois went on a 26-0 run. Northwestern, playing with eight scholarship players, hung tough with the Illini for most of the first half, but began to unravel with halftime approaching. An Alex Olah free throw cut the Illini lead to 19-15 with just under three minutes to go in the first period. Nearly 10 minutes of game time passed until the Wildcats scored again. Illinois went on a 26-0 run, closing the first half with 10 straight and adding 16 more after the break, extending the lead to 45-15 and putting the game out of reach early.
Player of the game: Richardson. Richardson had 18 points and eight rebounds -- both game-highs -- but coach John Groce, while plenty happy with that production, raved more about Richardson's work on the defensive end of the court. The senior contributed to keeping the Wildcats in check from the 3-point line, something Groce mentions time and time again when asked about Richardson.
Stat of the game: Field-goal percentage. Call it great defense, really poor offense, or a combination of both -- whatever the answer, Northwestern struggled to shoot on Sunday. The Wildcats finished 12 for 48 from the floor (25 percent) and missed 22 of 27 attempted 3s. Northwestern's shooting was drastically different than in the first meeting between the two schools. In the Jan. 17 Wildcats victory, the team shot over 47 percent from the field and hit 8 of 15 from downtown.
The takeaway: This isn't the same Illinois team that last month scored 54 points and lost at home to Northwestern. Sure, the Wildcats are down five players and don't stand a chance to win many more games this season. But still, Northwestern played Ohio State close in it's previous game and came out scrappy Sunday night. The Illini turned it on late in the first half and put the game out of reach early in the second. It wasn't that long ago that Illinois was 2-7 in the Big Ten and looked lost. Now, the team has a chance to get to .500 with a win versus Penn State on Thursday. The team is playing well right now, but Groce and players insist there is still room for improvement. For Illini fans, that's pretty sweet sounding music.