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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern pulls off upset against rival Illinois 73-60

Chase Audige and Northwestern’s stifling defense led the way in an encouraging victory for the ‘Cats.

@NUMensBball on Twitter.

After a deflating loss against Ohio State in its conference home opener, the Northwestern men’s basketball team (11-3, 2-1 B1G) took on cross-state rival Illinois (9-4, 0-2 B1G) on Wednesday night at home. The Wildcats sent the Northwestern faithful home happy tonight, disposing of their biggest rival 73-60.

Ty Berry and Chase Audige were noticeable and impressive tonight on both ends of the floor. Audige paced the team in points with 21 and was all over the place on defense, racking up four steals. Berry had 13 points and was a key part of numerous important defensive possessions. Also, Brooks Barnhizer was a key contributor in the win, flying around on defense and knocking down a crucial three pointer to give Northwestern the lead in the second half.

For the Illini, senior Matthew Mayer led the team in scoring with 17 on 5-for-11 from the field, and freshman guard Jayden Epps had 11 on 5-for-12 shooting.

Northwestern got off to a blistering hot start defensively, holding Illinois scoreless until just before the 16-minute mark when the Illini’s Dain Dainja broke the scoring drought with an emphatic slam. Audige and Matthew Nicholson both chipped in with steals.

NU rode that defense to an early 9-5 lead, but at around the 12-minute mark, the Illini came thundering back. Epps knocked down a three and then added on another bucket to knot the score up 12-12 at the under-12.

Following the TV timeout, both teams traded blows. Robbie Beran and Nicholson each scored for the ‘Cats, but their lead was quickly wiped away by buckets from Terrance Shannon Jr. and Coleman Hawkins. The game was tied once again at the under-eight, this time at 16-16.

Audige, Northwestern’s leading scorer this season, paced the scoring early. After the under-eight timeout, he intercepted a pass and sprinted down the court. He was fouled at the basket by Shannon Jr., and the contact was deemed severe enough to be a flagrant.

The foul seemingly shifted the momentum in the Wildcats’ favor. Audige knocked down a three on the ensuing possession, and Beran followed it up with an and-one dunk. Northwestern led 23-16 at the 6:50 mark.

Illinois wouldn’t allow the ‘Cats to extend that lead, though, and immediately cut into it behind two buckets from Epps and a three-ball from Hawkins. The score was 24-23 with Northwestern out front at the under-four.

The score stayed tight down the stretch in the first half until Nicholson converted on an and-one attempt and Audige hit another three, stretching the lead to 31-25 and forcing an Illinois timeout.

At half, Northwestern led 31-27 behind 13 from Audige and seven from Nicholson. Beran and Julian Roper also each had five. The Wildcat defense led the charge in the opening period behind two steals from team-leader Audige. The ‘Cats also held the advantage on the glass, out-rebounding Illinois 22-to-15. Epps led the way with nine points for the Illini, shooting 4-for-7 from the field. Illinois was also more efficient than the ‘Cats, shooting 46% from the field to Northwestern’s 30%.

The start of the second half didn’t go well for the ‘Cats. Dainja opened the scoring for Illinois doing what he does best, slamming the ball through the hoop as hard as possible. The Illini would go on a 10-1 run fueled by three-pointers from Shannon Jr. and Mayer. Illinois led 37-33 at the 17-minute mark when Northwestern called timeout to try to stop the bleeding.

NU refused to go away after the under-16. After a couple of made free throws from Buie, Audige and Barnhizer both drained three pointers to regain the lead for the Wildcats at 44-43.

After the under-12, Berry knocked down another triple, sending the Northwestern crowd into a raucous that could only be topped by the reaction to the three ball he hit less than a minute later. Buie followed that up with his first made field goal of the night, a layup to stretch the lead to nine. The score was 54-45 at the under-eight.

Defensively, Northwestern looked stout again, frustrating Illinois and drawing fouls. Berry was especially noticeable, causing a turnover near mid-court that ultimately resulted in an Illinois foul. The junior made four straight free throws to stretch the lead to 13 with 6:30 to play.

The Illini implemented a press before the under-four, but besides one 10-second call, it didn’t give the ‘Cats much trouble. By the TV timeout, Illinois had chipped away at the lead a little bit. NU led 62-51.

Out of the break, Hawkins drained a triple to cut Illinois’ deficit to eight. Buie calmed things down with a couple of free throws, but then Mayer cut the deficit to seven with his third made three of the night.

Northwestern proceeded to make its free throws and stretch its lead back to 11, and Beran iced the game with a blocked shot. A sea of orange flooded from the stadium. The ‘Cats had pulled off the upset, beating Illinois for the first time since January 2019.

Northwestern will travel to No. 15 Indiana this Sunday at 11 a.m. CST. The game will be broadcast on FS1.