BIG TEN TOURNAMENT: Illinois Defeats Northwestern 74-69 in Overtime – by Casey Campbell

Illinois forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili (15) shoots against Northwestern center Dererk Pardon, left, and guard Ryan Greer during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the first round of the Big Ten Conference tournament in Chicago, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

BIG TEN TOURNAMENT: Illinois Defeats Northwestern 74-69 in Overtime

The Illinois Fighting Illini defeat the Northwestern Wildcats in the battle of the state of Illinois 74-69 in overtime. Illinois will take on Iowa in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.

The Illini were led by Giorgi Bezhanishvilli who had a game-high 26 points for the Illini. Trent Frazier had 21 points in the game and was a perfect 4-4 from the line.

When Giorgi Bezhanishvilli was asked what it was like to watch the overtime session after he was fouled out, he said he couldn’t contain his excitement. “I was just really excited. I couldn’t put it in words. I was so excited. At the same time, I was confident because I knew the guys would leave it all out there. We’ve been through a tough year, and I know these guys are tough. I know they would give everything out there
on the floor. I was just so confident in them. I felt like we were going to win the game, and we did. It was just a great feeling,” Bezhanishvilli commented.

Coach Brad Underwood has noticed an improvement in Giorgi and described what it was like this year compared to last year. I probably don’t have enough time, but, yeah, here’s a guy that performed on this stage at this moment. He’s come so far. Ten days ago, two weeks ago, whenever we played them, Derick Pardon had his number. He’s taken that challenge himself. Pardon’s an elite defender, and he got to his spots. He got a little frustrated early because he got knocked off his spots a couple of times, but we did a great job getting him the ball. His maturity has changed the most from day one,” Underwood remarked.

Coach Underwood also said that Illinois did not play their best game tonight and said that at this point in the season it’s about surviving and advancing. “It’s the next round. We’ve got to move on. I think there will be some positives in that at some point. Right now I’ve been sitting in the back and coming out here, working on Iowa and all their stuff. It’s not the time to reflect on that. I think our opponents had some of that. I didn’t think we played great tonight. I thought we played better in a game or two when they got beat. But, yeah, it’s important to win. There is no doubt about that. These guys need to feel what this is all about. You only need a little tidal wave or a ripple to create a tidal wave, so we’ll see,” Underwood said.

Illinois may not have had the best season, but Underwood says that the season resets in the tournament and that puts teams on an even playing field. Yeah, everybody starts zero and zero. You come to these events, and it’s a different field. A 20-game season is a grind, and it’s hard. It just has a different monotony about it. Then you come in here, and you walk in this building, and you see all of this and the excitement. It’s just a different vibe. We tried talking about that a little bit. And you get here, and it wasn’t the prettiest first half. I thought the first half we could have been a bit better, but, again, I’m proud of where our guys played, and on to the next round,” Underwood said.

Illinois will take on Iowa in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. The game is at 9:30 PM Eastern time on BTN.