Men’s Basketball: Northwestern collapses against Illinois State in disappointing defeat

Junior+Guard+Dave+Sobolewski+forces+off+a+defender+in+Northwestern%E2%80%99s+unexpected+loss+to+Illinois+State.+The+Wildcats+doomed+themselves+to+a+game+of+catch-up%2C+falling+behind+by+as+much+as+19+points+in+the+second+half.

Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Junior Guard Dave Sobolewski forces off a defender in Northwestern’s unexpected loss to Illinois State. The Wildcats doomed themselves to a game of catch-up, falling behind by as much as 19 points in the second half.

Bobby Pillote, Reporter

Northwestern was battled to its second defeat of the season Sunday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

After falling to Stanford in a tough road game Thursday, the Wildcats (1-2) returned home and lost, 68-64, to the Illinois State Redbirds (1-2).

As has been typical of the team this season, NU got off to a sloppy start, and throughout the first half the Cats looked equally uninspired on offense and defense. Starting center Alex Olah picked up two personal fouls early and had to be subbed out, and the sophomore’s absence was immediately felt. Illinois State met little resistance when driving into the lane and also converted a dramatic alley-oop midway through the period.

“A disappointing game for us,” coach Chris Collins said. “Give Illinois State credit for that. They were quicker to loose balls, and their big guys were having their way inside.”

The Cats looked no better on offense and continued to shoot dismally. In the opening half, NU attempted seven 3-pointers and failed to hit a single one. Junior point guard Dave Sobolewski committed two turnovers and had no assists, and Olah was called for his third foul, further straining a thin front court.

Finishing the first period on a 16-5 run in the final 5 minutes, the Redbirds entered halftime with a commanding 40-22 lead.

“They rebounded better,” Collins said, “they defended better, they executed better. They completely outplayed us in the first half. … Everything they did was better than us.”

Collins and his squad came back out onto the court with much greater intensity to start the second period, but it wasn’t enough to slow down an Illinois State team that already had momentum on its side. Baskets continued not to fall for the embattled Cats, and foul trouble for redshirt senior forward Nikola Cerina forced the lineup to run small, at times operating without Cerina or fellow big man Olah on the floor.

“You can’t spot a team 20 points and give them that confidence,” Collins said. “It’s too insurmountable.”

Redshirt junior guard JerShon Cobb continued to power the offense for NU, finishing the game with a team-high 19 points. However, the majority of his scoring came from the free throw line. Cobb was 11-for-14 from the charity stripe but just 4-for-12 from the floor. As a whole, the team had a lackluster 36.8 shooting percentage.

The Cats’ top scoring threat also chipped in with another productive night. Redshirt senior forward Drew Crawford contributed 13 points and 7 rebounds and led the team with 39 minutes played.

“I just don’t think we had enough fight,” Crawford said.”That was the biggest thing, we weren’t fighting in that first half.”

Collins continued his experimentation with the playing rotation. Sophomore forward Kale Abrahamson saw his first significant minutes of the year, playing 17 and scoring 8 points to go along with three rebounds.

“Their big guys were quick,” Abrahamson said. “Coach saw that and he needed to make an adjustment.”

NU made a game of it, pulling to within 2 points with 20 seconds to play. However, the Cats were forced to foul, and the Redbirds hit all of their shots down the stretch to secure the 68-64 victory.

The loss was unexpected for an NU team facing a very inexperienced Redbirds roster. Illinois State was just 18-15 a year ago and lost all five of its starters.

“At the end of the day,” Collins said, “you either win or lose, and I’m not a big moral victory guy.”

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Twitter: @bobbypillote

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