Northwestern's road success continues in win over No. 23 Illinois

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Northwestern's road success continues in win over No. 23 Illinois

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Theres no place like the road for Northwestern.

The Wildcats kept up their impressive play away from home, taking a 68-54 win from No. 23 Illinois in Champaign on Thursday night. The win was Northwesterns fifth outside Welsh-Ryan Arena this season, but just its first against a ranked opponent.

Northwestern coach Bill Carmody was at a loss to explain his teams road prowess, however. When asked why his team did so well away from home he could only shrug.

I have no idea, he said. A good start on the road is usually importantwe played one of our better games this year and we had to to beat these guys here. Our defense was solid and we made shots.

Reggie Hearn came up big for the visitors, scoring 20 in the win. The senior guard is still not at 100 percent after spraining his ankle over the winter break, Carmody commented, but his effort buoyed the Wildcats against Illinois.

Hearns been having a very good year despite being injured, Carmody said. Hes still not really back, but he set the tone and let everyone know, Come on fellas, lets go.

Hearn was one of five Wildcats who reached double figures in scoring on Thursday, joined by Jared Swopshire and Alex Marcotullio, who each scored 12, as well as Dave Sobolewski and Tre Demps, who scored 10 apiece.

As in its loss to Wisconsin last Saturday, Illinois (14-5, 1-4) let its opposing number get out to an early lead. Northwestern found ample space between Illini defenders early the game and made the most of its opportunities.

The Wildcats went the first eight minutes of the game without missing a three point shot, making four during that span and taking an 18-11 lead over the hosts. Hearn had the hot hand for Northwestern, scoring eight in the first eight minutes, including two from behind the arc.

The first 10 minutes they were a juggernaut, Illinois coach John Groce said. We werent as locked in as we needed to be and they made us pay.

The Illini defense struggled all through the first half and the offense fared little better. From 12:08 to 6:33 the hosts turned the ball over six times in a span of eight possessions. The sloppy offense from Illinois helped Northwestern grab a 28-14 lead with 5:12 left in the first half.

An old-fashioned three-point play from Tyler Griffey, a converted and-one, looked like it might swing the momentum in Illinois direction. Alex Olah and Alex Marcotullio kept momentum with the Wildcats by scoring back-to-back layups, however. Layups continued to come easy for Northwestern, and an easy basket by Kale Abrahamson with three minutes left put NU ahead 34-19 and drew boos from the home fans.

The Illini were able to hold on to the ball for the final shot of the first half, but nothing would break their way. A last-second floater from Tracy Abrams and a put back attempt from Sam McLaurin glanced off the rim, and the buzzer went off with Northwestern holding a commanding lead, 36-21.

Illinois came out of the gates hot in the second half, stripping the ball from the Wildcats three times in the first four minutes. On the offensive end the Illini made the most of those turnovers, going on a 7-2 run in the first three minutes. McLaurin hit a pair of layups and Brandon Paul drained a three to pull the hosts within 10 again, 38-28.

It did not take long for Northwestern to stem the Illini run, however. Back-to-back threes from Swopshire and Marcotullio kept the hosts at bay, putting the Cats in front 45-30 with 12 minutes to play.

The Illini continued to play with vigor, which extended to Groce, who was given a technical for speaking his mind a bit too vigorously. Small errors, like unforced turnovers from McLaurin and Abrams, kept Illinois from mounting a serious comeback. Northwestern made just three field goals in the first 12 minutes of the second half, but managed to hold a 15-point lead, 48-33, at the under-eight media timeout.

The Wildcats lead would dip below 10 twice before games end. The second time, coming with three minutes to play, would quickly be erased by an and-1 from Swopshire, putting NU ahead 53-14 and sending fans in Champaign streaming toward the exits.

Paul, who had a game high 21 points, made a few pretty dunks for Illinois in the final minute of play, but they went for naught as Northwestern blew out the hosts. Groce was happy with his teams second-half play, but was disappointed he did not see the same effort for all 40 minutes.

I appreciate our guys effort in the second half, I thought we played a lot harder, he said. By the second we were trying to dig ourselves out of a hole. We gotta coach better, we gotta play better.

Illinois State, Loyola, Northern Iowa all in action Saturday on CSN and CSN+

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USA TODAY

Illinois State, Loyola, Northern Iowa all in action Saturday on CSN and CSN+

Illinois State, Loyola and Northern Iowa will all be in action Saturday.

And you can catch all three games on CSN and CSN+.

Tennessee-Martin at Illinois State, 2 p.m., CSN+

The Redbirds (4-3) are coming off of a tough loss on the road at Tulsa, but they're off to a solid start early in the season. Senior point guard Paris Lee, a Proviso East product, is having a monster season for Illinois State so far, averaging 15 points, 6.4 assists and three rebounds per game while shooting 54 percent from 3-point range.

Tennessee-Martin (8-2) is off to a great start with only a pair of road losses to SEC opponents Ole Miss and Kentucky.

Milwaukee at Loyola, 3 p.m., CSN

The Ramblers (8-2) have won three straight games and will try to carry that momentum into Horizon League play. Junior forward Aundre Jackson is off to a great start, averaging 16.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.

Loyola features a few former local high school stars. Senior Milton Doyle (Marshall) and junior Donte Ingram (Simeon) are both playing well.

Milwaukee (4-5) is off to a decent start in a rebuilding year under new head coach LaVall Jordan and is coming off a road win against Montana State.

Rockford Boylan product Brock Stull is the Panthers' leading scorer and rebounder. The sophomore guard is averaging 11.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.

North Dakota at Northern Iowa, 7 p.m., CSN

Northern Iowa (4-4) is coming off of a blowout win over South Dakota State.

Senior Jeremy Morgan has been doing it all for the Panthers. He leads the team in points, rebounds and assists per game. Morgan is putting up 15.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists per contest this season.

North Dakota (5-2) has two straight wins, including a victory over in-state rival North Dakota State.

The Fighting Hawks are led by Quinton Hooker, who's averaging 16.7 points per game this season.

Wednesday on CSN: Northern Iowa hosts South Dakota State

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USA TODAY

Wednesday on CSN: Northern Iowa hosts South Dakota State

Northern Iowa tries to break its four-game losing streak as they hose South Dakota State on Wednesday night. This game will be carried live on CSN with a 7:00 p.m. tip.

The Panthers (3-4) started the season with wins over power-conference teams like Arizona State and Oklahoma before dropping the last few games.

Senior guard Jeremy Morgan is off to a strong start this season as he's putting up 15.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.4 steals and 2.9 assists per game. 

They'll get a solid test from South Dakota State as the Jackrabbits have one of the best mid-major players in the country in sophomore Mike Daum.

The 6-foot-9 Daum is averaging 20.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game this season as he's the frontrunner for Player of the Year in the Summit League this season.