CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — No. 24 Illinois played their first game as a ranked team in more than five years, and survived a scare from instate rival Northwestern, defeating them 75-71. The Illini tried several times in the second half to deliver the knockout blow but the Wildcats kept getting back up.
“They’ve done this with everybody,” says Illinois head coach Brad Underwood.” I mean, midway through the second half against Michigan State it’s a two possession game. They’ve had very few nights where teams have been able to just deliver that knockout punch.
Once again when the game was on the line the Illini went to Ayo Dousnmu, and Dosunmu came through with a late jumper, and two late free throws. Dosunmu scored 15 points for the Illini.
“I feel like it’s just about seizing the moment,” says Dosunmu. “When you get in the moment, you can’t let the moment get bigger than you. You have to just fall back on your preparation and just rise to the level of your preparation and that’s what I just try to do in a late game situation.”
In the win, Trent Frazier became the 50th player in Illinois history to surpass the 1,000 point plateau. He needed 11 tonight to get there, he got that in the first half, finishing with a team high 16 on the night.
“It means a lot. I’ve worked hard for this. It’s just another milestone but I’ve got to continue to get better and finish out the season,” says Frazier.
Frazier also didn’t have any turnovers against Northwestern, it’s not his 6th game in a row without giving the ball away. The Illini enter the national rankings for the first time since 2014 this week. The last two times Illinois was ranked in the polls they lost the next week, dropping out of the polls. Illinois should be ranked in consecutive rankings for the first time since 2012-2013 when the polls are released on Monday.
The Illini will return to action against Purdue on Tuesday December, 28th. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. at West Lafayette.