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Northwestern beats Illinois 72-68 in overtime in wild, foul-filled Big Ten opener

The Wildcats and Illini went back and forth all game long, but Northwestern came out on top.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Northwestern Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

In the team’s conference opener, Northwestern survived an overtime thriller to defeat Illinois 72-68.

The Wildcats’ perimeter trio of Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey combined for 52 points, led by 22 from Lindsey, en route to the win. Northwestern also held Illinois to just 3-of-19 shooting from downtown. Despite having four players in double figures and dominating Northwestern on the glass and in the paint, Illinois couldn’t get the win.

Coming off a solid performance against Georgia Tech, Jordan Ash started for Lindsey, who went scoreless against the Yellow Jackets. Aaron Falzon also got the starting nod over Gavin Skelly, but both players went to the bench after a couple minutes.

It was an ugly first half — 26 fouls and 20 turnovers combined. The only saving grace for the Wildcats was Law, who hit shots from all over the court and threw down a monster jam. He picked up three fouls, though, forcing Chris Collins to go deeper into his bench.

Northwestern shot 33 percent from the field in the first half. The Wildcats struggled to get good looks against Illinois’ aggressive press. When Illinois stole an inbounds pass coming out of the under-12 media timeout, an irate Collins immediately called another timeout to address the issue.

Despite all the issues, Northwestern went into halftime only trailing 36-32. Illinois committed some silly turnovers and couldn’t get going from deep, keeping the Wildcats in the game.

Lindsey started in Ash’s place to start the second half, canning a corner triple to put Northwestern ahead. After going 1-of-7 from the field in the first half, Lindsey scored 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting after the break. With less than four minutes to go, Skelly found a cutting Lindsey for a dunk to put Northwestern ahead 60-59.

The Wildcats had a better second half offensively, shooting 46.2 percent from the field. The uptick in shooting coincided with more ball movement. Before the break, Northwestern assisted on just three of the team’s nine field goals. In the second half, the Wildcats assisted on nine of the team’s 12 field goals. Pardon had two huge assists late in the game, finding both McIntosh and Law for triples.

Turnovers and foul trouble plagued the Wildcats late; they turned the ball over on the final four possessions of regulation, and Skelly, Falzon and Law all fouled out. Illinois also struggled to keep the ball, coughing it up 19 times.

Overtime started off as a slog. It took nearly two minutes for either team to score, but then Lindsey hit a massive three to put the Wildcats ahead 66-64, followed by a Te’Jon Lucas driving layup to tie the game. Isiah Brown and Lucas then traded buckets to knot the game at 68.

After Lindsey gave Northwestern the lead at the free throw line, Pardon came up with his third rejection of the night to preserve the Wildcats’ advantage. With Illinois trailing by two, Lucas drove the basket, looking to send the game to a second overtime. Pardon wasn’t having it, swatting the attempt into the hands of Brown, who canned two freebies to ice the game.

The Wildcats will hit the road on Sunday to take on the Purdue Boilermakers (7-2) at Mackey Arena before resuming nonconference play against Chicago State (2-8) at Allstate Arena.