Northwestern has been looking for a signiture win all season and the Wildcats finally got it Saturday with a 71-70 upset of Illinois at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston.
Michael Thompson led all scorers with 22 points on 5-8 shooting from the 3-point line. JerShon Cobb and Drew Crawford broke into double figures as well with 13 and 12 points respectively. In perhaps the most encouraging development for the day for the 'cats, though, John Shurna returned from injury to score eight points off the bench. He also had five assists and three rebounds.
For Illinois (15-8, 5-5), Brandon Paul was active off the bench with 21 points on 6-10 shooting and 4-5 from 3-point territory. He also had five rebounds. Demetri McCamey scored 14 points, but no other Illini player had double figures in the game.
The Wildcats (14-8, 4-7) led from the get-go and pushed the lead to 11 in the first half before the Illini tied the game late in the half. In the second half, Northwestern shot out again, this time leading by as many as 12. A 12-0 run by Illinois tied the game right back up, though, with about six and a half minutes to play. Northwestern staved off the run and managed to hold on in the end, however.
Illinois outplayed Northwestern in many of the statistical categories. The Illini outshot their opponents 49%-46% overall and 57%-43% from the perimeter in addition to outrebounding the 'cats them 27-25. Illinois' 13 turnovers doomed its effort, though, especially early in the second half as Northwestern built a big lead.
Things only get tougher for the Illini from here. They travel to No. 20 Minnesota on Thursday before a quick turnaround to play No. 10 Purdue next Sunday at home.
Northwestern travels to Michigan on Wednesday. The 'cats will need a win there, too, if they're going to use this momentum to go on a serious NCAA Tournament run.