As it turns out, Chris Collins’ scouting report was spot on.
Before Northwestern hosted Illinois Friday night at Allstate Arena in the Big Ten opener for both schools, Collins predicted the Fighting Illini would be deep and very tough to play.
The Wildcats’ coach was accurate, but Collins’ team stepped up after another sluggish start and pulled out a 72-68 win in overtime.
“Heck of a college basketball game,” said Illinois coach Brad Underwood. “You could tell it was a conference game. I’m very disappointed and I wasn’t thrilled with our late game stuff. Three of our last four shots were blocked. But give Northwestern credit. They made plays and played like a veteran team down the stretch.”
Held scoreless in NU’s last game, a 52-51 loss at Georgia Tech Tuesday night, senior guard Scottie Lindsey was on the bench for the opening tip and was off his game again in the first half, making just 1 of 7 shots.
But the Fenwick High School product found his touch in the second half and finished with a game-high 22 points.
“Scottie’s been great for us,” Collins said. “I think the last game was a learning lesson for him. He really responded tonight.”
With the game tied at 68 with 59 seconds to play in OT, Lindsey was fouled and he calmly made both free throws to put Northwestern in front for good.
After center Derek Pounder blocked Te’Jon Lucas’ shot on the other end, Isiah Brown came up with the ball, was fouled and he made both of his free throws to seal the victory.
It was a needed win for NU (5-3).
“I feel very fortunate to be 1-0 in the conference,” Collins said. “We looked at this as a must win. I thought it was a really hard-fought game, which this usually is. They play really hard defense and you can’t run your offense. You just have to make plays. We’ve had to learn some tough lessons but I feel good about where our habits are. They’re coming, but they’re still a work in progress. “
Illinois (6-2) was led by Leron Black’s 15 points. Lucas and Mark Alstork each had 14.
This season, Northwestern and Illinois play only one time in the regular season. That’s too bad, considering how they went after each other Friday night.
“I’m new to it,” said Underwood, who is in his first season with the Illini. “But we recruit the same type of guys and we try to expect and demand the same things.”