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Baffling as it is, Northwestern wallops Illinois

(MCT) — CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A reporter asked Northwestern coach Bill Carmody about “calling out” his veterans after the Wildcats’ horrid performance Sunday against Iowa.

“Called out is a little harsh,” he replied. “I’d say challenged.”

However you characterize it, it worked.

“It started in practice,” Northwestern forward Jared Swopshire said. “(Carmody) wanted the scout team and the starters to compete a little more. We had two really good practices, and I think that translated to tonight.”

The result was a stunning 68-54 victory over Illinois on Thursday night. Northwestern nailed its first four 3-point tries, led 36-21 at the break and never saw its lead shrink below nine points.

The Wildcats finished 8-for-15 from downtown and cemented the victory with a 26-for-31 performance at the foul line.

“If you make shots, you become a better coach,” Carmody joked. “A good start on the road is very important.”

The Wildcats have proven they can triumph away from Evanston. They’re 5-1 in road and neutral games after victories at South Padre Island (twice), Waco, State College and Champaign.

But the Wildcats (11-7, 2-3 Big Ten) haven’t beaten anyone of note at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Going by RPI, NU’s best home victory came against Delaware State (211).

So what will Carmody do to prepare for Sunday’s home game against second-ranked Indiana? Put his team in a hotel.

“We’ll get ‘em off campus for a few hours just to change things up,” he said. “We have not been good at home, and I really don’t know the reason.”

After jumping ahead Thursday, NU’s offense did a slow burn. The Wildcats made just four second-half field goals while melting the clock to protect a lead.

Swopshire turned in a huge play with just more than three minutes to play, driving on Nnanna Egwu for a 3-point play and 53-41 lead.

The graduate student was solid (12 points, six rebounds), while Reggie Hearn scored a team-high 20 points and Dave Sobolewski had a game-high six assists.

“We definitely needed (the victory),” Swopshire said, “just for our confidence and team spirit.”

Northwestern now has won four of the last six in the series, a far cry from a stretch from 2000-2009 when Illinois went 18-1.

“We played one of our better games of the year,” Carmody said. “I think you have to do that to beat these guys here.”

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