Alan’s ‘A’ Game: Illini Ride Griffin's Hot Shooting To Victory At Northwestern

Matthew Stevens

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Not much mattered for Alan Griffin.

It didn’t matter if he was coming off a screen, in transition, highly guarded, wide open or even on one shot, had his feet pointed completely away from the basket. Regardless of the situation or shooting technique for the Illinois sophomore guard, the basketball was likely going to start about 20 feet from the basket and find the bottom of the net.

"It just feels like you're not just throwing it up there but every shot you take is going in," Griffin said. "It's a good feeling. I want to feel like that every game. I'm just in the moment." 

At one point late in the second half, Griffin had missed only one of his 10 field goal attempts and the reserve guard had everybody at Welsh-Ryan Arena thinking his shot was about to go in every time he touched the ball. Griffin finished with a career-high 24 points off the Illini bench and the team leader in three-point percentage was 6 of 8 from beyond the three-point arc. The audible "ooh" usually reserved for fireworks displays or airplane shows every time he rose up for a jumper was noticeable.

"That's the key. In the middle of the game, you can't get too high or too low," Griffin said. "In my mind, I was still focused." 

The son of former NBA veteran Adrian Griffin led Illinois to a 74-66 win over Northwestern, which is now on a 12-game losing skid as the bottom dweller of the Big Ten Conference.

With just over five minutes left in the game and the Illini up by double digits, a mostly orange and blue-clad crowd inside Northwestern’s arena gave Illinois’ sixth man a rousing standing ovation.

"We see that all of the time in practice but we forget Alan is a sophomore so he just hasn't been in those moments all that often yet," Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said. "That's growth to be able to ride that hot hand, that feeling, that adrenaline. We had trouble guarding them in the second half and Alan held them at bay." 

In what will likely be his final college game near his home city of Chicago, Ayo Dosunmu put on a show that included a marvelous behind-the-back layup move on the way to 21 points, five rebounds and four assists in 35 minutes.

Northwestern (6-21, 1-16), which was looking for their first three-game home winning streak against Illinois since 1966-68, had four players in double figures but couldn’t find enough defensive stops to stop Illinois’ perimeters bombs or the double-double from 7-foot freshman Kofi Cockburn. After being somewhat stifled in the win over Northwestern in Champaign a month ago, the 290-pounder from Harlem, New York via Jamaica ended this rematch with 12 points and 13 rebounds.

"I expected that (from Griffin) for a while now (because) I played against him in high school and I always try to tell him to be the kind of player I know you are, be the kind of shooter we all know you are," Cockburn said. "He shot the ball tremendously in high school to see him have the same kind of success here is a good feeling." 

Illinois earned its fifth Big Ten road win, which is tops of anybody in the league, and the victory allowed them to join Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin in a four-way tie for second place in the league standings.

Illinois will return home Sunday to play an Indiana team coming off a road loss tonight in an in-state rivalry game to Purdue and needing resume-building wins to secure an NCAA tournament bid. The only regular-season game between the Illini and Hoosiers will tip at 1 p.m. CST on BTN.