LIVE! Northwestern

LIVE! Northwestern

Northwestern 51, Illinois 50 — 7:45 left in 2nd half

The Illinois offense is still a little Giorgi Bezhanishvili or bust. The Illini freshman forward is 11 of 14 from the field and leads everybody with 25 points. Which is great, except Illinois went away from its only reliable scorer and let Northwestern not only keep hanging around but take the lead. A Trent Frazier three-pointer (he's got 12 points now) did help get a little momentum back to the Illini for a 48-48 tie.

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Illinois 41, Northwestern 39 — 15:58 left in 2nd half

Giorgi Bezhanishvili scored twice more in the first 4 minutes and now has 20 points on 9 of 12 shooting. The rest of the Illini are 8 of 26 from the field. Also, Northwestern isn't going away. A.J. Turner hit a pair of three-pointers in the early going and has 12 points. Dererk Pardon as 11. This one's going to go down to the wire.

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Illinois 30, Northwestern 27 — Halftime

What if I told you Giorgi Bezanishvili scored 16 points in the first half and Illinois only led by three at the break? Because that's what happened. The first half was ... ugly, and somehow Northwestern shot just 32.4 percent (and jacked up a bunch of airballs) but the Illini couldn't get any separation.

Still, great half for Bezhanishvili, and Trent Frazier was a little more aggressive. He already has more shot attempts in one half tonight than he had in the entirety of the Penn State game.

To the Twitter machine!

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Illinois 26, Northwestern 23 — 3:08 left in 1st half

During this timeout, we've learned that both Brad Underwood and Trent Frazier like ketchup, mustard and relish on their hot dogs (plus onions for Underwood). There was an undcurrent of booing it sounded like from the United Crowd about that. You know, the whole anti-ketchup thing here in Chicago. These timeout videos were things filmed during Big Ten media day in October. Just thought I'd share.

On the basketball court, Giorgi Bezhanishvili has 16 points. Frazier has five. So it's not a one-man show anymore. 

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Illinois 19, Northwestern 16 — 7:16 left in 1st half

Fourteen straight points later, somebody other than Giorgi Bezhanishvili scored for Illinois. Kipper Nichols made a pair of free throws (with Bezhanishvili on the bench getting a breather), and then Trent Frazier hit about a 30-foot three-pointer. Still, Bezhanishvili is 6 of 9 from the floor for 14 points. The rest of the Illini? Well, they're just 1 of 11.

But it's OK because Northwestern is shooting even worse. The Wildcats are 7 of 24 as a team (29.2 percent). Miller Kopp is leading the way for Evanston's Big Ten team with seven points and three rebounds.

Also, Tyler Underwood is getting some serious tick. He has 3 minutes played so far (the most since he played 6 minutes against Minnesota in Champaign), and he's back on the court out of the latest media timeout.

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Illinois 9, Northwestern 7 — 14:02 left in 1st half

Giorgi Bezhanishvili has all nine of Illinois' points, but after some nice moves down low early in the half his last couple of shots have been ... less than ideal. Illinois, as a team, has made just one of its last 10 attempts and is shooting 30.8 percent for the half. That's OK, though, because Northwestern is shooting 20 percent. 

Combine two teams without an ounce of offensive momentum with the Northwestern shrieker, and the Big Ten tournament experience here in the nightcap at the United Center is not great.

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Illinois 6, Northwestern 4

Some quick hits from the first 4-plus minutes ...

— The Northwestern shrieker is as terrible as I remember from that Jan. 6 game in Evanston, which led to her being told by Northwestern not to scream anymore at Welsh-Ryan Arena. If the Big Ten can insist I pour the water out of a bottle and into a cup (because the bottle isn't Big Ten branded), I'd say they can take care of this nonsense.

— No Vic Law means Northwestern is going to go to Dererk Pardon more. He got the ball on two of the Wildcats' first three possessions and missed bunnies on both.

— Meanwhile, Giorgi Bezhanishvili is getting early looks for Illinois, too, and he's made 3 of 4 and has all six Illini points.

— Line change for Illinois out of the first media timeout includs Andres Feliz, Alan Griffin, Adonis De La Rosa, Kipper Nichols and ... Tyler Underwood.

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Illinois vs. Northwestern — 8:11 p.m., BTN

Just a word of warning to everybody watching at home.

Also, no change in the Illinois starters tonight. The Illini are going with Trent Frazier, Ayo Dosunmu, Da'Monte Williams, Aaron Jordan and Giorgi Bezhanishvili. Without Vic Law, Northwestern is starting Miller Kopp, Anthony Gaines, Ryan Taylor, A.J. Turner and Dererk Pardon.

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Illinois vs. Northwestern — 8:11 p.m., BTN

First, an important note. Illinois is wearing its orange Flyin' Illini throwbacks tonight. Now, more about basketball.

The Illini haven't lost their confidence ven though they've lost five of their last six games. That one win was at home against Northwestern, and th Wildcats were a couple more made three-pointers from beating the Illini at State Farm Center. 

"I try to tell the players in the locker room you’ve got to take the good with the bad," freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu said. "Never get too high and never get too low. Just play game by game. We know what we can do. We lost a lot of close games, but that’s over with. Now we’ve got Northwestern and we know to continue our season we’ve got to keep on winning. Everything else besides this day going forward doesn’t really matter.

"Some teams, they get down, but what’s the purpose of getting down? We know we’ve got to go and battle (today) and we have to win. We have to do some impressive things. We really have to stay level headed — never get too satisfied and never get too cocky. Just keep working, keep believing in God and we’ll be fine."
 

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Illinois vs. Northwestern — 8 p.m., BTN

Northwestern lost 11 of its last 12 games of the regular season. The only win was an 18-point beating the Wildcats handed a Kaleb Wesson-less Ohio State in their penultimate game before the tournament.

"I really appreciate the leadership and the attitudes of our seniors in particular because they set the tone," Northwestern coach Chris Collins said of how his team handled the last month-plus. "It could have been very easy for those guys, as things were going the other direction, to not stay upbeat, to not stay enthusiastic (and) to not want to keep fighting.

"They did the opposite, and we’ve really relied on those guys and the character that they’ve shown — particularly our captors Vic Law, Dererk Pardon and Jordan Ash. They set a tone of continuing to come every day and let’s work hard and let’s prepare for the next game and have a fresh attitude."

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Illinois vs. Northwestern — 8 p.m., BTN

Illinois coach Brad Underwood mentioned several times earlier this week that conference tournament games tend to slow down compared to how teams might have played each other in the regular season. Slower tempo, shorter rotation for Illinois against Northwestern (like the regular season finale at Penn State)?

"Maybe," Underwood "I think one of the advantages we have is we do have depth. I think every game’s got its own identity. You don’t plan for the next day. You plan for the moment and the next play. We’ll see.

"A lot of time it becomes a slower paced game and you get timeouts used maybe a little bit differently to rest guys. You take every game for what it’s value is at that moment and make those choices."

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Illinois vs. Northwestern — 8 p.m., BTN

First, a disclaimer. Let's just assume tonight's tip is more like 8ish and not right on the money at 8 p.m.

Now, for the big news of the day here in Chicago — at least as it pertains to the Illinois-Northwestern game. The Wildcats will be without leading scorer Vic Law, who won't play because of the leg injury he suffered in Northwestern's regular season finale. A.J. Turner (illness) will play, but it sounds like he won't be at 100 percent. 

So ... bad news for Northwestern, but good news for an Illinois team trying to extend its stay in Chicago.

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There's nothing all that complicated about most basketball in March. Particularly with teams that don't have any likely postseason hoops in their immediate future. It's survive and advance. Win or go home.

That's the imperative for Illinois tonight in Chicago. A "first round" matchup with rivals Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament. The Nos. 11 and 14 seed going at it. There's nothing after this week for either team unless they do the improbable and win five games in five days.  

The odds are stacked against either team doing that. That's even more true in power conferences — even as crazy as the Big Ten has been this season. Don't be surprised if there are plenty of "upsets" in the next few days in Chicago. A team like Illinois, though, is going to have to catch some breaks to string four of them together.

(NOTE: The Illini are a two-point favorite tonight against Northwestern, so it wouldn't be an upset).

The LIVE! Report with beat writer Scott Richey (as always, that's me) will chronicle as much of tonight's game as possible with pregame updates and at least through the first half of the actual game. That it's the second game of the night and won't likely start at the scheduled 8 p.m. means furious deadline writing will take priority later in the game.

But that just means more extra coverage right here at IlliniHQ.com after the game. As in a second, updated game story and even more game notes. Plus, if Illinois wins, a look ahead to Thursday's matchup with Iowa. Plenty of reasons to keep checking back throughout the night (and into the early hours of the morning).

Until tip off comes, though, feel free to peruse some of the other Illini hoops offerings we have ...

Starters, stats, storylines and the beat writer's pick

A full Big Ten tournament breakdown (all 14 teams!)

Tournament offers fresh start for Illini

Dosunmu earns Big Ten honor

Can Illini regroup in Chicago?

One track mind: Chicago native Dosunmu's sole focus on keeping Illini's season alive

CHICAGO — Ayo Dosunmu’s first return home this season didn’t go particularly well. The Illinois freshman guard took just three shots and scored just six points as the Illini let a halftime lead slip away in a 77-67 loss to Ohio State in early December at the United Center.

Dosunmu isn’t really caught up in putting on for his city as Illinois returns to Chicago for the Big Ten tournament. What matters more to the former Morgan Park star is the Illini (11-20) extending their season as long as possible starting with today’s 8 p.m. opening round game against rival Northwestern (13-18) at the United Center.

“It’s either play or end your season,” Dosunmu said. “That right there should be motivation enough if you really love the game.

“I really wouldn’t care where (the tournament) could be played at. It’s just a fact we know what we have to do to keep our season alive.

“The pressure, I embrace it, knowing every four minutes — each segment — you’re just playing to continue your season. It’s actually fun and getting me excited knowing really no one thinks we can do it. We really have nothing to lose.”

To continue reading, click here. Then keep coming back to IlliniHQ.com for more.

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