Big Ten-leading Illini Overcome Cold-Shooting 2nd Half to Beat Wildcats, 73-66

IlliniGuys Staff

February 13, 2022

(Cover photo courtesy Joe Clark/IlliniGuys)

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Kofi Cockburn and Alfonso Plummer scored 19 points each as 13th ranked Illinois withstood a furious Northwestern comeback to defeat the Wildcats 73-66 and retain sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.

Illinois (18-6, 11-3) also got a career-high 14 points from freshman RJ Melendez off the bench to beat their state rivals for the eighth consecutive time.

Cockburn also pulled down 15 rebounds for his 41st career double-double, tying Skip Thoren's school record set in 1965.

The Illini came out of the locker room on fire from three-point range, hitting 9-of-16 from outside the arc in the first half.  Illinois hit only five treys in the entire game in their meeting with the Wildcats in Evanston on January 29th. Plummer hit four of those as part of a 16-point first half and a 44-30 halftime lead.

But the shots stopped falling in the second half, opening the door for a Northwestern comeback.  A Plummer three-pointer gave Illinois its biggest lead at 53-35, but managed only one field goal in the next seven and a half minutes as the Wildcats went on a 19-2 run to close the gap to 55-54.

That's when Cockburn sandwiched a couple of buckets around a pair of free throws to expand the Illinois lead to 61-56.

That set the stage for Melendez.  The 6-foot-7 freshman enjoyed his best outing as a collegian, hitting six of six from the free throw line in the final three minutes.  In the game, Melendez grabbed six rebounds and recorded two steals in 17 minutes off the bench.

Northwestern (12-11, 5-9) saw its three game win streak end.  The Wildcats were led by Ty Berry's 16 points off the bench.

Illinois fell into a three-way tie for first place after their loss at Purdue Tuesday night.  But the 3rd ranked Boilermakers suffered an upset loss at Michigan on Thursday and #14 Wisconsin was stunned by Rutgers at home on Saturday, leaving the Illini all by themselves in first place with six games to go.

The Illini will travel to face Rutgers Wednesday night (6pm, BTN).  The Scarlet Knights won three straight games in the past week, all against conference ranked in the Top 25.

Stay with IlliniGuys.com for complete postgame coverage and analysis.

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