Alan Griffin’s career-best 24 points push Illinois to 74-66 victory at Northwestern

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EVANSTON, Ill. — Alan Griffin received a standing ovation in an opponent’s arena Thursday night.

True, a majority of the fans at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Thursday night were dressed in orange. But the Illinois guard had a night any basketball fan could appreciate in a 74-66 victory at Northwestern.

Griffin scored a career-high 24 points off the bench on 9-of-11 shooting, hitting three straight 3-pointers in the second half and bringing down the house with a spectacular dunk. Griffin was 6 of 8 from beyond the 3-point arc.

Northwestern dropped its 12th straight game as Illinois (19-9, 11-6 Big Ten) had too much fire. Pat Spencer led the Wildcats (6-21, 1-16) with 18 points, and Miller Kopp added 14.


Here are three takeaways from the game.

1. What a week for Illinois.

Thursday’s game was the Illini’s second in a busy week that includes three games in six days. They’ll go for a fourth straight victory Sunday against Indiana at the State Farm Center.

The Illini appear to be an NCAA Tournament lock. They’re looking to improve their Big Ten Tournament seeding and continue to impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee. They picked up their fifth conference road win — the most in the rigorous Big Ten.

While Northwestern’s horrendous record won’t help Illinois’ standing much, at least the Illini didn’t pick up a “bad” loss to the No. 177 team in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings.

The Illini are one of only 10 teams with at least four Quad 1 road wins and the only team in the nation with four road victories against NET top-40 programs.

It didn’t hurt to have a “home” crowd at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Football coach Lovie Smith sat in the second row, and athletic director Josh Whitman also made the trip.


2. Alan Griffin can sizzle.

There’s no question Ayo Dosunmu fuels the Illini, and he had another big game with 21 points, six rebounds and four assists.

But Griffin can light a match too.

The 6-foot-5 sophomore is averaging 15 points in the last four games. He had a hot streak earlier in the season in which he made 22 of 30 shots in a four-game span.

To think, Griffin was an overlooked recruit and played just 8.1 minutes per game as a freshman.


3. Illinois’ depth makes a difference.

Last season Illinois couldn’t have survived a slump by Giorgi Bezhanishvili. Erratic 3-point shooting by Trent Frazier — he was 1 of 9 behind the arc Thursday — would have doomed the Illini. A 1-of-8 shooting performance from point guard Andres Feliz might have been deadly.

This season, Illinois has enough horsepower to make up for off nights by others.

Three players scored in double digits against Northwestern after five did so Monday night against Nebraska. In addition to Dosunmu and Griffin, freshman center Kofi Cockburn recorded his 12th double-double with 12 points and 14 rebounds.


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