Welsh-Ryan Arena Evanston

Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Northwestern Wildcats Pick & Prediction JAN 29TH 2022

Logo Illinois Fighting Illini
Logo Northwestern Wildcats

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No Kofi Cockburn or Andre Curbelo? No problem.

At least not on Tuesday night as No. 24 Illinois edged No. 10 Michigan State 56-55 in Champaign to regain first place in the Big Ten Conference.

"I told the team, I wrote it on the board: Culture win," Fighting Illini coach Brad Underwood said after that game. "That's what tonight was, and I couldn't be happier and prouder of a group of guys in that locker room than I was tonight."

Illinois hopes to avoid a letdown Saturday when it makes the bus ride to Evanston for another conference contest, with Northwestern.

While it isn't known whether Cockburn (concussion) or Curbelo (health and safety protocol) will be back, the Illini (14-5, 7-2) demonstrated against Michigan State that they have the depth, experience and resourcefulness to win any game, no matter what combination of players they have.

They got 16 points from Trent Frazier and 11 from Alfonso Plummer, plus 16 critical points off the bench from freshman Luke Goode and Florida transfer Omar Payne. Illinois also held the Spartans to 34.5 percent shooting and committed just seven turnovers, allowing it to overcome a 41-27 disadvantage on the boards.

"Who gave us a chance? Who would have thought?" Underwood mused. "Doesn't matter how many men are down. Doesn't matter, doesn't matter. Man, when you got character and you got guys that are together, you can do a lot of things. You find a way."

The way, of course, would be easier if Cockburn's 21.1 points and 11.8 rebounds per game make it back into the lineup. His presence commands double-teams that usually give guards such as Plummer (16.2 ppg) and Frazier (13.5 ppg) clean looks from long range.

The Illini average 78.1 points per game and convert nearly 10 3-pointers.

That's a far cry from Northwestern (9-9, 2-7), although it's not that the Wildcats aren't capable of winning against the best. After all, they sprung an upset of Michigan State on Jan. 15 and have had close calls in losses against Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin -- all top 15 opponents at the time.

Northwestern's 72-70 defeat at Michigan on Wednesday was a tough one to swallow. Northwestern rallied in the second half, grabbing a 62-55 lead with 5:09 left on Robbie Beran's layup, but the Wildcats couldn't close the game out.

It was the seventh loss in eight games for Northwestern, which has been blown out just once. That was in an 80-60 setback on Sunday at No. 4 Purdue. That has lent an air of familiarity to most of coach Chris Collins' press conferences after games.

"We answered every run," he said after an 82-76 loss to eighth-ranked Wisconsin on Jan. 18. "We have to keep fighting and get ready for the next game."

Pete Nance leads four Wildcats in double figures with 16 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. Boo Buie chips in 14.9 points and 5.3 assists a night, while Chase Audige adds 11.5 points.

This will be the 183rd meeting of the schools. Illinois owns a whopping 139-43 advantage, winning the last six matchups.

--Field Level Media

Illinois Fighting Illini
Northwestern Wildcats

Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Northwestern Wildcats Recap JAN 7TH 2021

Sophomore swingman Alan Griffin produced a career-high 24 points off the bench to spearhead Illinois' 74-66 Big Ten victory over Northwestern on Thursday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, Ill.

Ayo Dosunmu delivered 21 points and Kofi Cockburn contributed 12 points and 14 rebounds for Illinois (19-9, 11-6 Big Ten) to stay in a four-way tie for second in the conference race.

Pat Spencer scored 18 points to pace Northwestern (6-21, 1-16), which dropped its 12th game in a row. Miller Kopp added 14 points and Pete Nance had 12 off the bench as the Wildcats shot 41 percent from the field, but got outrebounded 42-29.

Northwestern held a few small leads in the opening minutes, but Illinois mixed Dosunmu's 15-foot pullups with Cockburn's dunks and layups to forge a 34-26 halftime lead. Dosunmu posted 13 points and Cockburn added 10 points and 7 rebounds as they combined to shoot 11 of 15 from the field in the half.

Illinois pushed the lead into double figures multiple times in the second half, but Northwestern kept rallying. Kopp swished a 3-pointer and Spencer drove the baseline for a 3-point play to pull within 43-38 with 15:32 left.

Then, with Cockburn bogged down by foul trouble in the second half, Griffin stepped forward. He delivered 17 points in an eight-minute stretch -- burying five 3-pointers and jamming an alley-oop pass from Da'Monte Williams -- to give Illinois a 64-48 bulge with 6:17 left.

Griffin, whose previous career-high was 19 points, finished with a career-high 6 3-pointers on 8 attempts and also grabbed 7 rebounds in his 21 minutes.

Northwestern made one more run and chopped the margin to 66-59 when Nance swished a second-chance 3-pointer with 2:49 to go, but the Wildcats couldn't get closer than 7.

--Field Level Media

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