CHAMPAIGN — Things were much different for Andres Feliz this time around.

After scoring two points in Illinois' loss to Northwestern earlier this season, Feliz turned in a career day on Sunday in Illinois' 81-76 win over Northwestern at the State Farm Center.

Illinois (11-18, 7-11) handed Northwestern (12-17, 3-15) its 10th consecutive loss.

Feliz sliced through the lane for layups, climbed the Northwestern trees for rebounds and came away with three steals on his way to a season-high 26 points to help snap the Illini's three-game losing streak.

Feliz drew 11 fouls and made 16-of-17 free throws thanks in large part to his ability to take a small seam in the defense and explode to the hoop.

“I was more aggressive and credit to my teammates that they were able to find me in transition or when I was open," he said.

Illinois, as a whole, was 33-of-38 from the free-throw line and got double-digit games from Giorgi Bezhanishvili (12 points), Ayo Dosunmu (12 points) and Trent Frazier (11 points). Feliz's emergence in the last few months has given the Illini another scoring weapon, especially off the bench.

"It's better for our team because now they can't just lock in on me, Giorgi or Trent," Dosunmu said. "When he gets going, it's really a bonus for us because he gets in there and passes and he can finish also. He gives us a spark off the bench."

The game was a stark difference from Feliz's 1-of-4 performance in Evanston that led with a gut-wrenching loss in January. Feliz has adapted to the college game and settled into his role.

“We knew he was a very electric type guy," Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. "He’s shown in games that he can really help them a lot."

Feliz made his impact early, scoring five quick points right after checking in early in the first half. Illinois coach Brad Underwood often lauds Feliz's strength, which helps him drive to the hoop through contact or to not get knocked off track while fighting through a screen.

On Sunday, it showed when Feliz found a crevice inside and climbed up for a rebound while getting fouled. He hit both free throws to keep a 10-point lead. Feliz has scored in double figures in five of the team's last 10 games and in six of the 14 games since the first meeting against the Wildcats. Prior to the game against Northwestern, Feliz had scored in double figures just three times in the first 14 games of the season.

“He was 10 or 11 games in," Underwood said of the difference in Feliz since the first Northwestern game. "The old myth is it takes junior college players a semester to get acclimated and understand what we’re dong. Now he’s confident and he's three-fourths of the way through his first year.

"We're seeing a guy who knows he can pick and choose his spot and he's more comfortable in the offense. He was terrific tonight."

In the first half, it looked like the Illini were on the verge of pummeling their in-state rivals. The Wildcats couldn't buy a shot and the Illini were connecting on 3-pointers.

At one point in the first half, Illinois led by 15 points behind a 1-2-2 three-quarter court press that was designed to keep the Wildcats from getting into their half-court offense, but the Illini also got a big assist from Northwestern. The Wildcats shot 1-of-13 from 3-point range in the first half before leveling out in the second half, finishing the game 7-of-27. The up-tick in 3-pointer production helped Northwestern trim what was once a 15-point lead to a three-point lead as late as with 12.6 seconds left in the game.

Even with the lead dwindling, the Illini didn't suffer a cold spell that has plagued the team at times this season. They had an answer for most of Northwestern's buckets.

“It’s March now," Dosunmu said. "We’re playing like this is our last game. If we lose we have to go home. We don’t have anything to lose at this point. We wanted to come out and play as hard as we can. When teams make runs, as a leader I try to tell the guys we have to stay focused and stay locked in."


PHOTOS: Illinois defeats Northwestern 81-76


Do you bleed orange and blue?

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25



Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

Load comments