Northwestern fends off Illinois behind Audige’s 21 points

By Adam Beck

Coming off a tough loss against Ohio State, Northwestern (11-3, 2-1 B1G) beat Illinois (9-5, 0-3 B1G) 73-60 at home on Wednesday night.

Chase Audige’s 21 points and four steals combined with Boo Buie’s 15 points off 11-12 shooting at the line to lead the ‘Cats to victory.

After Ty Berry opened the scoring for the ‘Cats with a 15-foot jumper, Boo Buie kept the offense rolling using his aggressive dribble to get to the line for two. Later, Buie found Matthew Nicholson in the paint who finished a layup with his right hand to give the ‘Cats an early 6-0 lead. 

Following the first timeout, both teams traded corner threes, with Matthew Mayer pulling Illinois to within one, before Chase Audige’s sweet stroke extended Northwestern’s lead to four.

With the score stuck at 9-5 in favor of Northwestern for three minutes, Jayden Epps ended an almost four-minute scoring drought for Illinois, scoring five quick points to keep the game tight. Epps would connect from deep before forcing the ‘Cats to call timeout after an easy layup to tie the game up at 12.

With seven minutes to go in the first half, Audige made things difficult defensively, stealing a pass from Coleman Hawkins and sprinting down the other end of the court to the basket. Illinois’s Terrence Shannon Jr, in defensive pursuit, got too physical with Audige and was called for a flagrant foul.

Audige connected on both free throws, and made a smooth twenty-foot pullup on the ensuing inbound pass to give the ‘Cats a 20-16 lead. On the next offensive possession, Beran added two more, throwing down a ferocious and-one dunk in traffic to give the ‘Cats a seven point cushion.

With 90 seconds left in the first half, Northwestern found another spark offensively. Nicholson picked up three points the old fashioned way, before Audige connected on his third three pointer of the game to send the ‘Cats into the break with a 31-27 lead.

Although far from perfect offensively in the first twenty minutes, Northwestern’s defensive intensity frustrated Illinois’ offense, holding Terrence Shannon Jr., one of the conference’s best scorers, to just two points in the first half. 

Coming out of the break, Illinois burst out to a 10-2 run. Forward Dain Dainja made an impact on both ends of the court, dunking one home before swatting a Boo Buie layup aside. Both Shannon Jr. and Mayer connected from deep forcing Northwestern Head Coach Chris Collins to call a timeout less than three minutes into the second half. 

With Northwestern trailing 43-38 and sputtering offensively, Audige continued his masterful performance, finding an extra gear to splash one home from downtown. On the next possession he came up with a loose ball defensively that led to a Brooks Barnhizer triple giving the ‘Cats a 44-43 lead. 

Moments later, Ty Berry tripled from the top of the key, flipping momentum back to the ‘Cats. On the other end, Northwestern forced a shot-clock violation, forcing Illinois to call a timeout.

Berry continued to contribute everywhere, making another three, while racking up four free throws and a steal, helping extend the lead to 13 with seven minutes left. Even with failing to make a field goal attempt for the last six minutes of the game, the ‘Cats mustered enough offense at the free throw line to seal Northwestern’s first victory over Illinois since 2019. 

Postgame, Coach Collins emphasized the importance of Northwestern’s defense that held Illinois to 39.7% shooting and racked up 11 steals.

 “We’re not this well-oiled offensive machine. Fortunately, we got to the line tonight. We were opportunistic with making enough shots, but our defense has to show up every night, and then we have to find ways to score enough to win on a given night.”

Northwestern will look to keep its winning feeling going this Sunday as it travels to Bloomington to take on No. 15 Indiana at 11 a.m. CST.