Illinois sets a school record with 70.5 percent shooting in an 88-63 win over Northwestern. The Illini hit their first six 3-point attempts and shot 81.8 percent in the first half.

 

It's been popular to complain about No. 20 Illinois even in a victory, but it was hard to find anything that caused much concern from the 88-63 blowout win over Northwestern in a Big Ten Conference basketball game Thursday at Assembly Hall.

-- Illinois made 13 of its first 15 shots for 86.7 percent through the first 12 minutes 10 seconds. The Illini also hit their first six 3-point shots, just one short of the shooting spree at Iowa last week.

After hitting 81.8 percent in the first half, Illinois finished by shooting 70.5 percent to set a school record.

-- The Illini grabbed a 17-2 advantage in rebounding to start the game, a decisive stat for a team that entered the game ranked ninth in rebound margin in the Big Ten.

-- Forward Mike Davis can do more than rebound. He tied his career high with five assists in the game's first 8 minutes.

-- The Illini held Northwestern to 31-percent shooting in the decisive first half, when the Wildcats were 9-for-29.

-- Good ball movement led to 15 assists by halftime as the Illini were "sharing the sugar,'' guard Demetri McCamey said.

The best part, the Illini said, was putting away a team in the second half after building an early lead.

"We came out more mature than we have in the past,'' center Mike Tisdale said. "We stepped on their throats. We said that all year that we have to finish games and finish teams off. We came out in the second half, didn't give them any confidence and finished it off.''

Coach Bruce Weber wrote "0-0 on the board'' at halftime, Davis said. "It was the Kobe rule. Come out with 10 minutes left, ice your knees and let the young guys get some time.''

Illinois extended a 23-point halftime lead to 32, leaving Northwestern coach Bill Carmody exasperated.

"There wasn't much competition out there tonight,'' Carmody said. "They played extremely well. We had something to do with that. We were unable to stop them.''

"After the game was over, (Weber) was sympathetic when he got his guys out of there. He was compassionate. You have to have a good start on the road. We didn't have a good start, a good middle or a good end.''

Anybody in orange and blue who was unhappy with this one was nit-picking. OK, there were 22 turnovers, but a chunk of them came when the reserves played the final 7:55.

"We can't lose focus,'' Tisdale said. "We can't be too high right now. We're notorious for letting down after that. The big key is coming back, taking it to them on the road.''

The Illini improved to 13-3 overall and 3-0 in the Big Ten heading into a bye weekend. The Illini won their ninth straight game against the Wildcats here and 28 of the last 29 vs. Northwestern in the Hall. Illinois plays at Penn State Tuesday (8 p.m., BTN).

"Obviously, a little surprised,'' Weber said. "It was a happy surprise. We know a month from now when we go there it won't be like that. We can enjoy it for a day.

"Here's the question -- the maturity of our guys going to Penn State.''

McCamey had 14 points, seven assists and five rebounds before leaving the game with 11:26 left. Davis was also on his way to a triple double before sitting with 12 points, seven rebounds and seven assists with 9:48 remaining. Tisdale had 13 points and five rebounds before leaving with 14:19 to go. Guard D.J. Richardson scored 10 points before taking a seat with 7:55.

Freshman center Meyers Leonard scored a career-high 11 points, and freshan Jereme Richmond also scored 11 points. He returned after aggravating a strained Achilles in the first half.

Northwestern (9-4, 0-3) entered the season as an NCAA Tournament contender, but the Wildcats need to help themselves against the Big Ten's upper half to earn the program's first berth ever to March Madness. Without a quality non-conference victory, the Wildcats relied upon scoring some key victories in Big Ten play.

The Wildcats already lost to Purdue and Michigan State before the blowout in the Hall.

Freshman guard JerShon Cobb led the Wildcats with 18 points. Northwestern star John Shurna scored seven points while hampered with a high ankle sprain suffered in late December. He likely won't be healed for another three weeks, Carmody said. Shurna failed to reach double figures for the first time this season.

Illinois report card Front court -- A Mike Davis' passing made an impression early in the game, and the Illini dominated the boards. Back court -- A It's hard to beat a team that goes 6-for-6 from the 3-point line to start the game. Bench -- A The Illini reserves earned some valuable playing time. Overall -- A Not a bad start to Big Ten play after messing up the last two games in non-conference play. The Ill