Ugly comes in many forms: Illinois missing its first 12 attempts from 3-point land ... The Illini’s Jon Ekey blowing two follow-up dunks ... Northwestern’s Sanjay Lumpkin losing a tooth on a loose-ball scramble.
No one who witnessed Sunday’s battle between Chicago’s Big Ten team and the “Our State” representative will claim they saw pretty basketball for much of the night.
But the Wildcats will not ask for a mulligan, not after winning their first Big Ten game of the season.
The 49-43 victory bumped them to 8-9 overall and 1-3 in the league. It provided first-year coach Chris Collins with a signature win – and his first quality win – after 17 games.
Illinois, meanwhile, fell to 13-4 and 2-2 in the league after shooting 6-for-31 (19.4 percent) in the first half. Tracy Abrams led the Illini, who shot 28.1 percent for the game, with 13 points.
Both teams started hitting shots in the second half. Kendrick Nunn’s 3-ball tied the game at 34-all, but then NU guard Tre Demps caught fire. He nailed three treys in a 3-minute span to give his team a 43-36 edge with 3 minutes, 32 seconds to play.
A huge moment came with 55.9 seconds to play when Illinois' Joseph Bertrand slammed into center Alex Olah, making his shot. Rather than a 3-point play, the officials hit Bertrand with a charge, sending Illinois coach John Groce into a tizzy.
The fact that Northwestern won without point guard Dave Sobolewski, who had started all but one game this season, adds an intriguing element. Sobolewski missed the game after suffering a concussion in practice. In his last action, at Iowa, he turned over the ball on NU’s first two possessions and extended his 3-point shooting slump to 4-for-46.
Illinois, oddly, did not opt to pressure JerShon Cobb until they fell behind 43-36. Cobb took over at point and played an excellent game, finishing with 11 points, four assists and three rebounds.
The Wildcats turned it over three times down the stretch, revealing a remarkable lack of ability against pressure.
Rayvonte Rice hit a 3-pointer with 15 seconds left to cut NU’s lead to 45-43.
But Drew Crawford hit two free throws and made a key rebound to seal it. He finished with a team-high 13 points and eight boards.
Lumpkin had his NHL moment in the first half, after he collided with Bertrand in the hunt for a loose ball. His mouth slammed onto the floor, and his tooth was retrieved by NU assistant coach Pat Baldwin, who handed it to a trainer.