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January 12, 2014

Rapid reaction: NU 49, Illinois 43

EVANSTON-Chris Collins grabbed the first Big Ten win of his coaching career as Northwestern beat No. 23 Illinois, 49-43, on Sunday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Here are WildcatReport's initial thoughts following Northwestern's biggest win of the season.

Did you see that?Alley-oop to Egwu. We generally pick a Northwestern play for this, but Illinois (as expected) provided the most exciting ones. Down 37-34 with 6:30 remaining after a Tre Demps three-pointer, Illini point guard Tracy Abrams raced down the court looking for a quick answer. He drove toward the left corner and lobbed a one-handed pass toward the basket. Center Nnanna Egwu, unmarked, rose up and jammed home the alley-oop.

Offensive player of the game:JerShon Cobb. While Tre Demps definitely hit the biggest three shots of the game, Cobb was the most consistent efficient offensive threat for the Wildcats. He finished with 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting, and he was the only NU player to hit better than 50 percent from the field. And when Northwestern needed a bucket to put the Illini out of reach, Cobb was the one to drive in for the right-handed layup to put his team up by nine.

Defensive player of the game:Tre Demps. He's known for bringing instant energy on the offensive end, but he played a better game on the other side of the ball against Illinois. Demps tirelessly ran all over the court, either guarding the ball or helping wherever necessary. He fought over screens, closed out strong on shooters, sprinted to double in the post and recovered beautifully. Sometimes, all of this would come on one possession.

Turning point:Tre Demps' trey balls. With the game tied at 34 and just under seven minutes remaining, Demps took a pass from Alex Olah and drilled a three. On the next possession, he came off a screen, set his feet at the top of the key and hit another one. Two possessions later, he found an open look from the right wing and knocked down a third. It gave Northwestern a 43-36 lead and had the purple contingent of the crowd roaring.

Atmosphere: It was by far the best turnout of the year, but most of the credit goes to the Illini fans. They made sure that Welsh-Ryan was nearly filled to capacity, even taking over empty space in the student section. The result was a true Big Ten atmosphere and some ambiguity as to which was the home team. It was a disappointing showing by NU students, who weren't able to fill the stands behind each basket.

Super sub:Tre Demps. Sensing a theme? It's hard to choose anyone else. Northwestern had 11 points off the bench, and they all came from the sophomore. Nine of those came from the previously-mentioned three-point barrage. In looking at his offensive performance in the clutch, as well as the job he did throughout on defense, this was a very easy decision.

X's and O's:Free-throw disparity. Northwestern shot 17 while the Illini only attempted six. Some of these may be attributed to questionable calls, but it's also a testament to Northwestern's defense. They took away driving lanes, doubled the post and forced Illinois to take way more 3s than John Groce would've liked.

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