Illinois holds off comeback bid of Northwestern for sole possession of first place in B1G
Illinois is in sole possession of first place in the B1G after holding off a pesky Northwestern squad Sunday afternoon.
After building a 14-point halftime lead, the Illini fought hard down the stretch for a 73-66 win over the Wildcats. It pushed Illinois to 11-3 in conference play, just a half-game ahead of 11-4 Purdue for first place.
Illinois was led by Kofi Cockburn and Alfonso Plummer who led the way with a team-high 19 points. Cockburn went 8-for-11 from the field and rounded out his double-double with 15 rebounds.
However, the story of the game was the performance of R.J. Melendez off the bench for the Illini. He provided 14 points and 6 rebounds while shooting 3-for-4 from the field with 2 steals in 17 minutes played.
The flashes have quickly materialized for RJ Melendez.
The 6-7 Illini FR wing has shown a growing grip on employing his athleticism to make a two-way impact. Now 7/10 from 3PT range.
Leads Illinois in BPM in the last two games by a large margin (+61.7 combined). https://t.co/WygCMhubPU pic.twitter.com/Gwnm9MIybK
— Max Feldman (@MaxFeldman6) February 13, 2022
The strong play of Melendez helped Illinois overcome a poor game from Jacob Grandison, Trent Frazier, and Da’Monte Williams. That trio combined to shoot 4-for-23 from the field and 3-for-15 from 3-point range.
Now, the Illini will regroup and move on to a game at Rutgers on Wednesday. While Illinois will be favored, they must tread lightly against a Scarlet Knights team that is riding a 3-game winning streak vs. ranked opponents and is squarely on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament.