Big 2nd half pushes No. 12 Illinois past Northwestern

  • Illinois center, Kofi Cockburn, right, rebounds the ball against Northwestern center Ryan Young during the second half on Thursday in Evanston. Illinois dominated the second half to come from 15 points down at halftime and beat Northwestern Thursday night in Evanston.

    Illinois center, Kofi Cockburn, right, rebounds the ball against Northwestern center Ryan Young during the second half on Thursday in Evanston. Illinois dominated the second half to come from 15 points down at halftime and beat Northwestern Thursday night in Evanston. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 1/7/2021 11:01 PM

Illinois played the first half in Evanston on Thursday like it had never seen a zone.

Northwestern's 3-2 zone baffled the Illini, and the Wildcats built a 43-28 halftime lead over the 12th-ranked team in the country.

 

The halftime adjustments went the Illini's way. They outscored the Wildcats 53-13 in the second half, held the Wildcats to 2-of-24 shooting, and roared to an 81-56 come-from-behind win.

Illinois (9-3, 5-1) kept a couple streaks alive while staying a half-game behind Michigan for the Big Ten lead.

The win was the Illini's fourth in a row, and fifth straight over the Wildcats.

And nobody saw it coming, at least after watching the first 20 minutes.

"I'll take all the blame for the start of the game," Illini coach Brad Underwood said. "We looked like we laid around the hotel all day. I'll give the players credit for having pride and responding in the second half. We were really dialed in. I am very proud at the response of our guys."

Illinois become the first Division I team in the last 25 years to trail by 15 at halftime and win by 20 or more. Several Illini spearheaded the comeback.

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It started immediately, a quick 8-0 run in 1:37. Da'Monte Williams took a charge -- the third foul on NU point guard Boo Buie -- Trent Frazier hit a 3-pointer, Kofi Cockburn converted a 3-point play and Ayo Dosunmu drove for a basket to get Illinois back in the game.

Cockburn put the Illini ahead to stay 49-48 when he scored inside with 12:30 to play on a feed from Dosunmu, and Illinois kept pouring it on from there.

"We were active," Cockburn said. "We helped each other out. Coach emphasizes all the time that offense wins games and defense wins championships. We just came out and dominated. I was playing with low energy in the first half, wasn't doing what the team needed me to do."

Little-used Jacob Grandison gave the Illini a lift with a couple hustle plays during the surge, Williams swished a pair of corner 3s, and the defense completely frustrated Northwestern (6-4, 3-3).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Buie, who averaged 18 points a game in his first three Big Ten games, missed all 6 shots from the field and didn't score. Pete Nance and Miller Kopp combined to make 5 of 19 shots.

Cockburn (18 points, 12 rebounds), Dosunmu (15 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists), Frazier (14 points) and Adam Miller (14 points) all hit double figures for Illinois.

The first half was a completely different story. After Illinois took an early 12-6 lead, Wildcats coach Chris Collins switched from a man, and Northwestern dominated the rest of the half.

The Illini repeatedly tried to lob the ball inside to Cockburn, which resulted in many of their 11 first-half turnovers. They also didn't have much success shooting NU out of the zone, hitting 3 of 13 from the arc.

By halftime Northwestern led by 15 with five players scoring at least 6 points.

"Very disappointing loss tonight," Collins said. "It's hard to know where to begin. They hit a quick 8 points to start the second half and kept attacking. To only score 13 points, we just have to play better."

Underwood said he didn't say much in the locker room at halftime. Illinois made 8 of its 14 second half 3-point shots.

"We were so sloppy in the first half," Underwood said. "I've been doing this a long time and I don't know if I've ever seen such a drastic change in a half."

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