Illinois and Northwestern have spent the past few seasons building a budding local college basketball rivalry, and Wednesday's game in Evanston felt tangibly bigger than other early-season conference games. The teams' traded shots back-and-forth all night, but it was the Illini who escaped with a 57-56 victory.
Northwestern had the final shot after freshman forward Mike Shaw missed his final free throw, but Drew Crawford's last second attempt was swatted by Illinois center Meyers Leonard to secure the victory. The Illini trailed the Wildcats by five at halftime, but used stellar defense and balanced scoring to surge ahead and hold on for the win in the second half.
Three Illini scoreres reached double-figures, led by Leonard. The sophomore center finished with 12 points, eight rebounds, and two blocks. Guards Joseph Bertrand (10 points, eight rebounds) and Brandon Paul (10 points, four rebounds, four assists) also were key in the victory. True freshman Nnanna Egwu came off the bench to score nine points on 3-of-3 shooting.
Northwestern was led by star forward John Shurna, who finished with 20 points and seven rebounds.
For more coverage of the Illini, be sure to explore Hail to the Orange, and for more on the Wildcats, check out Sippin' On Purple. Stay tuned to SB Nation Chicago for live, in-game scores and updates. For more on Tuesday's match-up, check out this preview.