HQ Live Report - Northwestern 74, Illinois 70 - Final
-Yes, that just happened.
-With 2:28 left in regulation, Northwestern had the ball and a 64-61 lead. The Assembly Hall had the excitement of a banana peeling. There appeared to be roughly 2,000 or 3,000 empty seats on Super Bowl Sunday.
-Northwestern snapped a nine-game losing streak in this building.
-Fans started heading to the exits with 42 seconds left and the 'Cats up by seven.
-Northwestern didn't make a free throw until 42 seconds were left in regulation.
-John Shurna had 24 points. Reggie Hearn had a career-high 20. The Wildcats shot 60.4-percent against the Illini's porous defense.
-The numbers don't say so - Northwestern solved the system and has a top-50 RPI - but this is the kind of loss that keeps you out of the NCAA tournament (similar to Minnesota at home in 2010).
-Meyers Leonard had 21 points - one shy of a career high. Brandon Paul had 22 points, including a three-pointer at the buzzer.
-Illinois fell to 39-5 against Northwestern at the Assembly Hall.
-The Illini coaches and players have a I-can't-believe-that-just-happened look on their faces as they enter the tunnel. Unfortunately for the Illini, this kind of loss happens far too often. The Wildcats are celebrating their biggest road win in.... you tell me.
-More coverage coming later on HQ - if you can stomach it.
HQ Live Report - Northwestern 62, Illinois 59 - 3:16 left in regulation
-This would be another top-50 RPI win for Illinois. Or a head-shaking, NCAA-tournament threatening loss at home. Northwestern is 47th in the RPI as of today.
-Why is Duke losing to Miami at home? That doesn't make sense.
-Minnesota and Michigan State picked up Big Ten wins today.
-Klee and Jackson both have the Patriots today.
-Nnanna Egwu checked in for the first time - at 5:32. And Meyers Leonard immediately walked to the scorer's table to replace him.
-The fans didn't appreciate Bruce Weber's use of a timeout after a made basket.
Back in a few.
HQ Live Report - Illinois 52, Northwestern 51 - 7:22 left in regulation
-A Northwestern fan screamed, "Overrated!" with Meyers Leonard attempting a free throw. She was shouted down by the Krush.
-Love the Joseph Bertrand playground-style ball fake.
-Leonard affects at least a dozen shots each game with his shot-blocking presence.
-Patient Northwestern is using more clock on the offensive end, shortening the game and wearing down the Illinois defenders. The killer is when Northwestern gets an offensive putback - like Crawford just did - after using 33 seconds of the shot clock.
Back in a few.
HQ Live Report - Illinois 46, Northwestern 43 - 10:56 left in regulation
-Joseph Bertrand with his second career three-pointer at 11:45. That's really going to help the Illini offense if he can hit that shot. Defenses won't be able to sag off him and help on Meyers Leonard.
-David Sobolewski (Illinois Wolves Class of 2011) was defending Sam Maniscalco (Illinois Wolves Class of 2007).
-The Orange Krush is chanting, "N-I-T! N-I-T!" We presume the chant was directed at the Wildcats.
-There was some disagreement on whether Brandon Paul should be the Illini shooting free throws. The Northwestern coaches thought it should be someone else. Paul made both.
-Outstanding and understated game from Brandon Paul so far. He's been efficient (3-for-5 on threes) and frugal (one turnover, four assists).
-The loud voice behind us is strong in his opinion: "PLAY A ZONE, WEBER."
Back in a few.
HQ Live Report - Illinois 39, Northwestern 38 - 14:51 left in regulation
-Bruce Weber displeased with Brandon Paul's shot selection on one possession.
-Illinois took its first lead - 39-38 - with 15:57 left in regulation. Consecutive buckets from Joe Bertrand made it happen.
-The Illini's defensive rotations are much, much quicker this half.
-Meyers Leonard has 14 points and hasn't missed a shot (7-for-7). Well on his way to another double-double.
Back in a few.
HQ Live Report - Northwestern 36, Illinois 33 - Halftime
-Myke Henry checked in for the first time at 4:20. Assistant coach Jay Price, who has the Northwestern scouting report, told Henry he was the 4 man alongside big Meyers.
-Meyers Leonard felt that 3-second call was premature. He pointed out his right foot was outside the lane. Couldn't see it from here.
-Drew Crawford is playing with abandon. He tore through a passing lane like Super Bowl champion Troy Brown and scored a breakaway dunk.
-The videoboard showed former Illini Dave Diehl and Steve Weatherford from Super Bowl media day on Tuesday. Good stuff from the video productions staff in the DIA.
-The Illini are warming up behind the arc, hitting on 5 of 11 three-point attempts in the first half (45.5 percent).
-Illinois didn't have a lead in the first half.
-Always good to see radio legend Jim Turpin on press row.
-The BTN got its Meyers Leonard highlight on another blocked shot swatted into the pep band.
-Bruce Weber was calling out a play called "Magic 5" against Northwestern's zone defense.
-Northwestern has used one substitute. Six-man rotation for the 'Cats.
-Reggie Hearn is one shy of a career-high. He has 16 points. Scored 17 against Central Connecticut State on Dec. 17.
-Northwestern had to beat Illinois on the Matto chart in the first half.
-Meyers Leonard has 12 points (6-for-6 shooting) and five boards. Brandon Paul has 11 points.
-Lots of empty seat today. Attendance estimate, according to our attendance guesser? Somewhere around 13,000. Maybe 14,000.
Back in a few.
HQ Live Report - Northwestern 23, Illinois 21 - 9:04 left in the first half
-Reggie Hearn has doubled his seasonal scoring average (13).
-Sam Maniscalco's frustrated with his outside shot. Grimaced after another missed three. The Illini are the team that couldn't shoot straight - now 8-for-44 from 3 over the past two-plus games.
-Lots of enthusiasm on the Northwestern sideline. The 'Cats believe they're going to snap a nine-game skid in this building.
-Meyers Leonard doing what he wants in the paint. He has eight to lead the Illini.
-Tracy Abrams returning the favor to the veteran. The freshman found the senior Maniscalco, slapped his hand and said, "You're good."
Back in a few.
HQ Live Report - Northwestern 18, Illinois 12 - 12:42 left in the first half
-That was Joseph Bertrand's first three-pointer of the season. And his career.
-Reggie Hearn going all Jon Diebler on the Illini with 10 quick points. He averages 6.1.
-Whitney Mercilus just received a 22-inch Optic crystal trophy for the National Defensive Performance of the Year.
-Northwestern built an 18-9 lead when Sam Maniscalco checked in for Tracy Abrams at the first timeout.
Back in a few.
HQ Live Report - Northwestern 10, Illinois 7 - 15:00 left in the first half
-From the don't-mess-with-Vegas file... the over/under on the length of the Star Spangled Banner at today's Super Bowl: 1 minute, 34 seconds. The length of the Star Spangled Banner before this game: 1:34.
-According to Marcus Jackson... Alex Marcotullio as the Wildcats huddled at midcourt: "We've got nothing to lose. Let's go."
-Drew Crawford jumped center for the vertically challenged Wildcats.
-Bruce Weber on the first possession: "Get it inside!"
-David Sobolewski - one of four Illinois Wolves on the court to start this game - put the Wildcats on the board first with a three-pointer. The other Wolves alums: Abrams, Bertrand, Shurna.
Back in a few.
HQ Live Report - Illinois (16-6, 5-4 Big Ten) vs. Northwestern (13-8, 3-6) - Tipoff (2 p.m., BTN)
-If the NFL grades on character, Whitney Mercilus is a first-rounder. Stand-up guy. The former Illini star, who is training in Arizona, is in the building for the first half today. He said of his decision to leave early: "It's an opportunity that came up to benefit my family."
-The banners honoring Doug Mills and Ralph Jones were just raised to the rafters.
-The Illinois student managers open their intramural season Monday night. Sean Harrington is the general manager - at least until I take over.
-Illini starters today, according to deeply rooted sources: Abrams, Richardson, Paul, Bertrand, Leonard.
Back in a few.
HQ Live Report - Illinois (16-6, 5-4 Big Ten) vs. Northwestern (13-8, 3-6) - 30 minutes until tipoff (2 p.m., BTN)
-Northwestern is going to make Illinois hit outside shots today. The Illini are 6-for-38 from three in their past two games.
“I would bet money that Northwestern will jump out in a 1-3-1,” Weber said Friday. “And they’re going to sit in that 1-3-1 until we figure it out.”
-Illinois AD Mike Thomas is here. He's shaking hands and chatting up fans. Loren Tate sat down with the AD on Friday - here's what he wrote.
-Going to talk to Whitney Mercilus, hoping he doesn't sack me.
Back in a few.
HQ Live Report - Illinois (16-6, 5-4 Big Ten) vs. Northwestern (13-8, 3-6) - One hour until tipoff (2 p.m., BTN)
-Eric Collins and Shon Morris are on the call for the BTN. They're over in the broadcast booth.
"It's a good place to shoot," Morris said of his playing days as a visitor at the Assembly Hall.
-Illinois has won 28 of its last 29 games against Northwestern at the Assembly Hall. That includes nine straight in this building.
-To borrow a phrase from Brandon Paul, shout-out to the technical folks at the Assembly Hall. They've fixed this laptop's connection issues countless times this season.
-The Wildcats and Illini are on the floor. Northwestern coach Bill Carmody tells us that Luka Mirkovic (ankle) will play today.
-Illinois is 8-0 when it leads in bench points. You'll remember freshman reserve Myke Henry played a key role in the Illini's 57-56 win at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
-Interesting to watch a pair of Big 12 heavyweights go at it last night - and compare that style of play to the Big Ten's. The Big 12 has three Final Four contenders at the top but isn't as strong through the rest of the league. The Big Ten is deeper. The difference we see is the Big 12 has NBA guys. The Big Ten is more the sum of its parts.
-Meyers Leonard just touched near the top of the white square of the backboard.
-Don't expect you'll see many recruits in attendance today. St. Joe's standout Paul Turner was scheduled to be here but probably won't make it. Expect you will see a couple of younger kids.
Back in a few.
HQ Live Report - Illinois (16-6, 5-4 Big Ten) vs. Northwestern (13-8, 3-6) - 90 minutes until tipoff (2 p.m., BTN)
-Football writer Bob Asmussen informs us that Whitney Mercilus, who is training in Arizona, will be honored at today’s game. And football coach Tim Beckman is expected to have a large crowd of juniors in attendance.
-Something's got to change in the Big Ten. Michigan and Michigan State have combined to score just 12 points through seven minutes in East Lansing.
-Looks like Fiddler on the Roof is showing at the Assembly Hall on March 18. To avoid a possible NIT game and Cirque de Soleil-like conflict, Illinois needs to win games like today.
-Marcus Jackson's favorite, country music star Jason Aldean, played a sold-out show here at the Assembly Hall last night. I'm told the stage was broken down and the basketball court was in place by 6 a.m. The show was over around 11 a.m., the stage was down by 1 a.m. and the scoreboard was back up by 3 a.m.
-There were more people at the Aldean show than we'll see today. Roughly 16,000 attended the concert, according to deeply rooted sources.
-Brandon Paul said Penn State guard Tim Frazier has been the toughest defensive assignment this season. He only spent a few possessions on Frazier, mainly on switches, but said, "He's so quick."
-BP3's been a scoring machine of late. It's easy to point out the Ohio State game, but the junior guard is still averaging 19 points over the past four games. The weakness in Paul's game continues to be turnovers. He acknowledges as much. Research performed by a former News-Gazette beat writer indicates only six players from power conferences have suffered more turnovers than Paul's 73.
"I know that's something I need to work on," he said before a recent practice.
-But here's Paul's best contribution (you know, aside from carrying the Illini offense and scoring 43 points on one of the nation's top defensive teams): His latest Youtube video.
-Brandon Paul, Tyler Griffey and Myke Henry are on the court, shooting jumpers and chewing on Werther's Originals courtesy of P.A. announcer Mike Cation.
Klee's going on the First Bank Pregame Show. You can listen live here. Back in a few.
HQ Live Report - Illinois (16-6, 5-4 Big Ten) vs. Northwestern (13-8, 3-6) - 2 hours until tipoff (2 p.m., BTN)
Good morning everyone. Basketball writer Paul Klee joining you from courtside at the Assembly Hall for today's Live Report. We'll be here through the final buzzer with observations and anecdotes that you might not get on the BTN broadcast. Big one today so we're getting started early...
-The late Doug Mills and Ralph Jones will be honored in a pregame ceremony today. Here's a look at their banners going up a few minutes ago. They join Lou Henson and Harry Combes in being permanently recognized in the Honored Coaches program.
-For all the close-game statistics - and some of them are remarkable - this one stands out to me. Illinois has been able to kick back and enjoy a double-digit win only once in December and January (Illinois 80, Coppin State 63 on Dec. 11). The other seven wins were decided by 7, 5, 9, 1, 5, 5 and 1 points. This is a team living in survival mode.
-Today's game features the leading and third-leading scorers in Big Ten play - Brandon Paul (19.8 ppg) and John Shurna (19.3). BP3 will defend Shurna again today and said his goal is to hold him below 10 points. In the second of their first meeting this season, Paul limited Shurna to three points on 1-for-7 shooting. His approach?
“I just was aggressive. I didn’t let him catch the ball easy. I made him take pressured shots," he said. "That’s what I plan on doing this next game. That’s my goal – to hold him under 10 points. Then hopefully that’s going to help my offensive game.”
-Indiana winning at Purdue on Saturday was a good thing for Illinois. The Illini didn't want to face the Hoosiers (on Thursday) when the Hoosiers were 5-7 in the Big Ten and playing for their season.
-What's coming in February? Here's a breakdown of the Illini's schedule: Click here.
-Predictions - for this game and the Super Bowl (Bruce Weber took the Pats): Click here.
Just me today, so we'll be skipping between the Live Report and working on our print coverage for Monday's News-Gazette. Back in a few.