Shooting Dooms Cats Once Again (Men’s Basketball)

Andrew Simon

By Andrew SimonThe Daily Northwestern

Northwestern ran into a familiar foe in its road loss to Illinois – poor shooting.

The Wildcats played the Illini tough but could not make enough shots to pull out the win. NU’s 48-37 loss on Sunday in Champaign, Ill., was its eighth consecutive defeat to Illinois.

The Cats shot 31 percent, including 21 percent from 3-point range, and scored just 15 points in the second half. The result was NU’s lowest scoring output of the season.

“You’ve got to be able to hit from the perimeter and therefore, open up your inside game,” said senior Tim Doyle, who tied for the team lead with nine points. “I don’t know about abandoning the 3, but it just seems like we can’t throw it in Lake Michigan right now.”

In many areas, the Cats improved upon their performance from their loss to the Illini 11 days earlier in Evanston. In that game, the duo of center Shaun Pruitt and forward Warren Carter combined for 30 points and 23 rebounds, while Illinois out-rebounded NU 40-16.

The second time around, NU held its own in the paint. Pruitt and Carter teamed up for only 18 points and eight rebounds, and Illinois won the final rebounding battle by just 11.

“That was something we’d emphasized the whole week in preparing for them, knowing that we got out-rebounded by 24 last time,” said freshman Kevin Coble, who also had nine points. “That was something we had to key in on, and we did a good job keeping them off the boards.”

The Cats’ offensive lapses at the end of each half proved to be critical.

NU outscored Illinois 9-5 at the end of the first half to pull within one point. But the Cats also missed a few opportunities in the final two minutes to take the lead before halftime.

In NU’s last two possessions before the break, sophomore Sterling Williams missed an open jumper off an inbounds pass and sophomore Craig Moore bricked an open 3-pointer.

“That was a critical point in the game,” Doyle said. “When you get the lead, you feel comfortable, but we just couldn’t get that lead. We couldn’t get over that hump.”

After Coble hit a go-ahead trey to open the second half, Illinois went on a 15-4 run to take a commanding 38-29 lead with a little more than seven minutes to play. But NU scored five unanswered points to get back in the game with 5:25 remaining.

That’s when the Cats’ offense went quiet once more at the most inopportune time. NU made one of seven shots and was outscored 10-3 the rest of the way.

“It was the same thing that had been going on the whole game,” Coble said. “We just had a tough time scoring the ball, and that was something we were disappointed with. To have everything else going well and not be able to score during that time was frustrating.”

Despite NU’s shooting woes, Illnois never pulled away due to its own offensive troubles. The Illini began the game by converting six of their first eight shots but made only 34 percent of their attempts after that.

While the Cats held most of the Illini’s weapons in check, they could do little to stop guard Rich McBride. Just like he did in the last meeting between the teams, the senior knocked down five 3-pointers, most of which came from well behind the arc. His 15 points led all scorers.

“You have to respect him because he’s a good shooter, but then again, he’s human and he’s shooting from what seems like Evanston,” Doyle said. “He even caught me off guard. I couldn’t believe how far he was shooting from.”

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