The smallest player on the court, Northwestern’s Michael Thompson, made all the big plays down the stretch leading his Wildcats to a 71-70 victory and sweet revenge against their state rival, No. 24 Illinois. It was a bitter defeat for Illinois who just four weeks ago handed Northwestern an embarrassing loss in a 25 point victory.
A determined Northwestern squad was playing in front of a rowdy sold-out home crowd and national TV audience. The Wildcats rose to the occasion, especially the 5-10 Thompson, the senior spiritual team leader known as, “the juice.” Thompson sank three shots from three-point range in the final six minutes to give Northwestern the lead after the Wildcats had let a 12 point second half margin evaporate into a tie game. “The juice,” made a pair of clutch free throws with :49 left and added a diving on the floor steal that kept the Illini from a key fast break. Thompson finished with a team-high 22 points, 14 in the second half. Brandon Paul paced Illinois with 21 points.
Northwestern never trailed, but the Illini did tie the game a couple of times. Northwestern used their patient motion offense to open up a 12 point lead, 53-41, with 10:59 left, Illinois answered with a 12-0 run of their own to knot the score at 53-all with a little over six minutes to go. That’s when Thompson started launching three’s and grabbing loose balls.
The win snapped a three game skid for Northwestern and left them 14-8 & 4-7 in the Big 10. It was the first time Northwestern had knocked off a ranked team in after losing their previous 10 attempts.
Illinois lost for the fifth time in seven games, as they drop to 15-8 & 5-5 in the Big 10.