‘Cats Pull Stunner In Champaign, Rout #23 Illini 68-54

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What was that? A first half featuring better than 70% 3-point shooting. Money free throw shooting down the stretch. Solid defensive rebounding against a high flying opponent. And ultimately.  a wire-to-wire 68-54 win against a Top 25 team, an extreme rarity in the Bill Carmody era and just our sixth win in the 50-year-old former house of horrors. Cripes, we scored only four field goals in the entire second half and won by 14! Let’s try and break it down as NU moves to 11-7 and 2-3 in the B1G.

Dave Revsine hammered home the Jared Swopshire factor and BTN laid out a graphic showing how strong his stats are in our now 11 wins and how poor his play is in our 7 losses. But, that would be too simple to pin this win on his back alone. Reggie Hearn looked like his old self in the same building that he tore it up in last year.  He had a strong first half mixing up solid shooting with impressive drives to the hole and finished the night just superbly from the line, leading all scorers with 22 points on the back of 11/12 free throw shooting. Alex Marcotullio, while having a troublesome night ball handling was clutch with three point shooting.  Swop indeed was aggressive and like Hearn, mixed up attacking the basket with some key jump shots. And of course, there was our steady Eddie, David Sobolewski, who really managed this game like a seasoned quarterback while also possibly setting a record for fouling out a game while picking up a first foul so late in a game.

As the jaded Northwestern fan, Northwestern’s first half double-digit lead seemed to be fleeting. I kept waiting for the Illini surge fueled by an antsy packed orange-clad house. Every time a mini-run came, the ‘Cats answered. Whether it was a Marcotullio three, or a late Swopshire traditional three, the ‘Cats answered. As lost as we looked in Iowa, we looked confident. The unsung hero in this game, to me, was Tre Demps, whose lack of more playing time is still mystifying.

The Illini opened the second half in two gears stronger than they did in the first half and seemed poised to mount a comeback. They forced Sobo and our guards to start the offense near half court.  Yet, when Demps was in the game, he had the quickness and ball handling skills to challenge and penetrate. He is so clearly the guy who can create off the ball and just a few touches on the perimeter seemed to inject team confidence. Really though, he won the day at the free throw line. Tre scored 10 points and went 6-6 down the stretch from the free throw line and seemed to set the tone for our best free throw shooting night in recent memory. We shot 83.9% from the line and exactly 50% from the floor and 50% (8-16) from three point land. When you include all of the elements we know so well, the injuries, the talent, it is one of the more remarkable wins for Carmody. For historical context, it was the first time since 1959-1961 that we have won back-to-back games in Champaign.

The ‘Cats struggled mightily to score from the field in the second half, however you have to give the ‘Cats credit for pretty stellar defense.  The Illini also contributed with a continued disturbing trend of miserable 3-point shooting going just 3-20 for the night. Again, credit to NU, but also the live-by-the-three die-by-the-three Illini approach is all too familiar to us (read: see Iowa) and on this night it was killer for the Illini. It was so sweet to enjoy a double-digit lead that didn’t feel like we were clinging to the edge of the bridge like we did against Baylor. As a program, there simply aren’t many nights like this and it brings sheer joy when they come.  Let’s hope we get more. Congrats to the ‘Cats who now return home to face #2 Indiana at Welsh-Ryan on Sunday.  As you read over and over on the BTN graphic, perhaps that is not a good thing. Northwestern has now won 4 of the last 5 conference road games.

Shannon Ryan offers up the Illini “we’re embarassed” angle here.

  • cece

    shut the hell up!!!! yeah!!!!

  • SJ Wildcat

    Surprisingly steady performance against a ranked team that did not play like one tonight. That said, credit the Cats for sinking the free throws down the stretch. It was fun to watch. Indiana is coming, so our joy may be short-lived. Go Cats!

    • zeek

      Well, we seem to have caught the Illini in some kind of midseason swoon.

      To Carmody’s credit, the team was prepared to take advantage.

      But basketball is a make or miss game. You play percentages, and you hope things go right as far as that goes.

  • PDXCat

    FIRE CARMODY! What a joke. If we had the next Brad Stevens we would have won by 25 or 30.

    • cebpd

      if we had brad stevens, this team would have likely beaten illinois, Iowa, and been competitive in Michigan/Minnesota, wouldn’t have lost to UIC, or been down to the wire with Texas State(did we lose that game?)

      • bd005

        Are you kidding me? Not w/ Crawford and Cobb out and all the other injuries.
        If the ‘Cats had a Cobb and (a healthy) Crawford and Lumpkin, Cerina and Marcotullio (w/o his back spasms), they would have likely beaten Butler.

        • AdamDG

          …I’m pretty sure he was kidding.

          • bd005

            Hah, now that I reread it – yep (sorry, my sarcasm meter was down).

          • bandcat

            Playing Sobo until he fouled out against Butler when he was dog tired cost us against Butler..Not giving Demps playing time in that game to give Sobo a blow all but forgotten.

  • Alaskawildcat

    It was just yesterday that I commented on Sunday’s loss noting that “one lives or dies by the three” and that if we had made 35% of our shots from 3-point range we would have taken home a win. Maybe that inspired the team to step-up and work on improving their percentage this week in practices!? lol Great win, great effort and thanks to all.

  • Al

    Was this a job-saver for Carmody?

    • Ron

      God, I hope we don’t have to go 0-fer to get rid of him… So big deal. One game with a high outside shooting percentage. Play the lottery, don’t keep the coach.

      • AdamDG

        Why are you so heavily discounting the shooting pct? Not all jumpshots are alike… when you have wide open shots taken by your best 3pt shooters, they’re more likely to go in.

  • Road Win

    After a loss, this discussion space lights up, quickly, with irate demands and excruciatingly specific critiques of perceived coaching incompetence (time management, personnel management, strategy, comportment, inspiration, etc.). After a blowout of a ranked team, there’s nothing of the sort. This contradiction is stark and baffling.

    So why did the team play so well last night? Why does it lose? Presumably the coaching is consistent; it’s difficult to think it’s withheld or purposefully misleading during a loss and something entirely different during a win. The variation in the Cats’ performance–which, admittedly, is maddening and whose mysterious nature points to an enormous, yawning gap in Chicago sports journalism–must be somewhere else.

    Despite major (and equally baffling) diminution of the roster, the team has shows skills and good training. It has no implausible losses (though potentially could–and fully stocked, should–have more wins of games it nearly won anyway). Why these losses are all at home is a further bafflement–and perhaps partly our fault.

    Finally, on Coach Carmody’s ability to inspire and his sideline demeanor, which receives vituperative attention after a loss: looking at any other man on the sideline–Calipari, Pitino, Krzyzewski, Boeheim (to name some of the most successful, by wins, which seems to be the prime criterion of the fractious critics, and a group, one notes, that gives major roles to players who depart their colleges after one year or two)–one sees sad, bilious fellows to whom it is difficult to point during a game and say, “look upon this face, young man, hear its encouraging tones, and be inspired.” It must be noted that, in general, college coaches of nearly all sort seem, on their sidelines, rather insufferable. NU players do speak very highly of their coach and their training. Again, another contradiction.

    • skepticat

      It’s that way with the football team too. The malcontents crawl out of the woodwork like ants after, say, a fluke hail mary pass at the end of the game, but then quietly disappear, perhaps with an occasional mutter of “nice win”, after a 10-win season capped by a bowl win. I think it’s just the psychology of the malcontent: they’re not happy unless they’re complaining.

    • Mark

      I don’t pretend to criticize the coaching or effort, either football or basketball. I do question the state of the basketball program. Hiring a new coach may make things worse – but I don’t see things getting better with the current program. After this many years we know what to expect – the team will still be the 8th through 10th or 10th through 12th after new programs come in, borderline NCAA tournament, if make NCAA tournament then won’t get past first game, etc. Even other great academic schools don’t go along with this.

    • http://twitter.com/LakeThePosts Lake The Posts

      In fairness, there were 6-7 comments praising the ‘Cats for their play. How do you explain the “variation in the ‘Cats performance”?

  • PurpleHayes

    VERY satisfying win (always enjoy beating Illinois in any sport). Illinois is clearly not a rankable team, and even for their level, they seemed as flat last night as we did Sunday. But take nothing away from the Cats–in addition to better shooting (which will come and go), we did two things very well that I hope to see more of: play defense and shoot FT’s. Not ready to degenerate into whether this saves Carmody’s job, or whether Coach K would’ve won by 40, but while our opponent was flat (why jack up 3′s with all those superior athletes?), give Bill credit for once for a sound, well-executed game plan. Only one concern from my standpoint, and ironically last night’s game highlighted that concern in spades. This is becoming a senior-heavy team. We all like to talk about getting Crawford and Cobb back next year, but the first three names mentioned (and very appropriately) in the LTP post were Hearn, Marcotullio, Swopshire. All three will be gone next year. Understandable that seniors will lead, particularly in a crisis mode, but I would have expected promising if erratic contributions from Olah, Abrahamson, et al. It’s early in their careers, but the prized recruits are not yet showing much promise. We think of next year as incremental, but right now it feels more like another rebuild, and Carmody definitely doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have time for that. C’mon youngsters–we’ll need you and everybody else to play well to stay in the game on Sunday.

    • bd005

      Frosh are frosh – even Iowa’s 4 star recruits are doing no better and Crawford and Cobb are a good bit better than Hearn and Swop (Swop is too inconsistent on the offensive end).

      Demps, who is showing signs of being a scorer, will be better (just needs to learn how to play more in control and w/in the system/game) and Lumpkin was the most game ready out of all the frosh (not to mention, up there w/ Cobb and Crawford in athleticism and defense).

      Turner is showing promise on the defensive side and doing all the little things (he needs to develop his O game, maybe he’ll get to Swop’s hot and cold level w/ another year or so).

      Sina, by all accounts, is a shooter, who will give Sobo some time to rest (as is Taphorn – who probably will need a season to add some mass).

      The key to next year will be the front court – will Olah, Ajou, Cerina and Turner play good defense and give just enough offense?

      There will be plenty of offense from the guard/swing positions – Crawford, Cobb, Sobo, Demps, Lumpkin and Sina.

  • AdamDG

    What a satisfying win. It was particularly great to see 3llio get back into the groove.

    As I’ve posted ad-nauseum, this offense creates open looks; the defense creates confusion. When we hit open shots and stay disciplined, we win.

    Thank the players for this victory, but also thank the system that they executed so well. This team doesn’t win last night running a more traditional offense.

  • NUMBalumDave

    Good for the team! That is all!

  • gocatsteve

    LTP…I don’t think Demps get as much playing time as you may like, because of his shot selection. He can throw up some crazies during a game, and early in the shot clock which goes against the team’s current philosophy. As far as last night, he’s a good ball handler and should’ve been brought in when Illinois pressed the ball in the 2nd half. Carmody did that.
    Why don’t they play well at home? They play on their heels, seem tentative, and worry more about making mistakes than being aggressive and taking charge. On the road, the team has a sense of urgency and a “nothing-to-lose” mentality.

  • skepticat

    Hah, hah, HAH! What’s the saying about beating your rival and nothing else matters? I won’t go quite that far, but walking into the Whining Illini’s stadium and smoking them like a box of stogies … not a bad Thursday night! Let’s hope our home game picks up so we can get the sweep!

  • Michigan Cat

    That was just crazy. I called my Illini bros at halftime, to rib them, but to also assure the world would tilt back to its usual status quo by the end of the game. But the Cats persisted (although I’d never let Alex M. touch the ball when he’s not open for a shot again), and pulled it off. Good shooting is always necessary to win…but overall, baffling.

  • Alum Dad

    I am disappointed in the state of NU basketball, in spite of the nice win last night. Anyone that has spent much time watching Bill Carmody’s teams knows they will win a couple of games they were supposed to lose every year. The bigger problem is watching them lose games they should be able to win. Does anyone think we should have lost to UIC (at home) this season? The Flames are now 11-7. Also, losing to Iowa, by 20, at home? That is the Hawkeye’s only B1G win so far this season. Unless last night marked a distinct change in this season’s fortunes we won’t be seeing a tournament bid this season. It will go down as another mediocre season for NU basketball. I am truly surprised by the number of Bill Carmody backers on this site. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the proof is in the pudding. We will be mediocre as long as Bill Carmody is in charge of recruiting and coaching the team.

    • AdamDG

      The pudding is leaps and bounds tastier than it’s ever been.

    • bd005

      (‘BWhat?

      The BB team last year had ZERO “bad losses” – they didn’t lose to any team w/ an RPI over 100.

      Take that in contrast to FB which has had bad losses to Army, UNH, Duke, ‘Cuse (when ‘Cuse was bad), etc. and it’s so much harder not to have bad losses in hoops than in FB since there are more opportunities for a team to have an off-nite shooting and the opponent to be on fire.

      And the BB team is what it is do to injuries (and Cobb’s suspension).

      USC last season won 1 conf. game last season due to injuries; most of the SEC this season is a mess due to injuries and playing a lot of young players (‘Bama lost to Mercer and Tulane).
      DO you think the FB team would have had the season it had if it had injuries to key players (this season, FB was lucky on the injury front)?

West Division

TeamsW (Overall)L (Overall)W (B1G)L (B1G)
Minnesota1000
Purdue1000
Iowa1000
Nebraska1000
Illinois1000
Northwestern0100
Wisconsin0100

East Division

TeamsW (Overall)L (Overall)W (B1G)L (B1G)
Rutgers1000
Penn State1000
Michigan1000
Michigan State1000
Ohio State1000
Indiana1000
Maryland1000