Underdog Illinois knocks off Northwestern again

CHAMPAIGN, IL - FEBRUARY 21: Te'Jon Lucas #3 of the Illinois Fighting Illini stumbles as he dribbles the ball against Isiah Brown #12 of the Northwestern Wildcats at State Farm Center on February 21, 2017 in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

CHAMPAIGN – For the past few months, the Big Ten team from Chicago has played the role of “Cinderella” quite well.

In perhaps their most legitimate run for an NCAA Tournament bid in program history, Northwestern has tied a school record with 20 victories in the 2016-2017 season and are on the verge of finally getting an invite to the “Big Dance.”

Yet one team has managed to turn the clock to Midnight on this Cinderella not once but twice this season. Illinois, traditionally the favorite against the Wildcats, has made one of the more popular teams in college basketball this season look pedestrian in a pair of games.

That was especially the case on Tuesday when the Illini easily bested Northwestern 66-50 at the State Farm Center. Unlike their win in Evanston on February 7th, where a late 7-0 run proved to be the difference, Illinois outscored the Wildcats by 15 in the final 20 minutes to coast their way to the victory.

It’s only their sixth triumph in the Big Ten, a full three games behind Chris Collins’ team that fell to 9-6 in contests against their conference foes. In the process the Wildcats missed a chance to reach 21 wins in a season for the first time in program history.

Malcolm Hill had a lot to do with that as he chipped in a game-high 18 points for Illinois. Eleven of those came in a 9:16 stretch late in the second half when Northwestern failed to score a bucket and were outscored 19-5 by the hosts.

Northwestern struggled mightily from the floor in that stretch and the entire game as they hit just 32 percent of their shots and went 4-of-18 from the three-point line. Scottie Lindsey, the team’s leading scorer who was in his second game back after a bout with mono, was 1-for-11 shooting with just two points.

Bryant McIntosh led Northwestern with 16 but it wasn’t enough to keep the Illini from reaching the figurative Midnight against their star-crossed rivals for a second time this season.