Men’s Basketball: Northwestern suffers ugly loss to Illinois


Sara Gnolek/The Daily Northwestern

Vic Law surveys the arena. The sophomore forward’s hot start couldn’t save the Wildcats on Tuesday.

Ben Pope, Reporter

Men’s Basketball

Junior guard Scottie Lindsey missed his second straight game with an illness. Senior forward Nathan Taphorn was fresh off an ankle injury. Freshman center Barret Benson sat on the sidelines all night.

Up against an upset-minded Illinois (14-11, 4-8 Big Ten) team sporting a balanced rotation, that lack of depth ultimately cost the Wildcats (18-6, 7-4) in what was expected to be an easy win.

NU was unable to preserve a slim late lead and fell 68-61 to its in-state rival on Tuesday at Welsh-Ryan Arena, extending Wednesday’s letdown at Purdue into a losing streak and calling back into question the Cats’ chances at an NCAA tournament bid.

“It was a tough loss for us tonight,” coach Chris Collins said. “Down the stretch, I just didn’t think we played smart basketball.”

Junior guard Bryant McIntosh led NU with 21 points on a streaky night. He missed his first eight shots, then made eight of his next 11, then went 0-for-1 with four turnovers in the game’s final three minutes. Sophomore forward Vic Law added 16 points and nine rebounds.

The disparity in depth proved the difference.

For Illinois, forward Michael Finke came off the bench with an all-around excellent performance, draining 4-of-6 field goals and 3-of-5 from deep and tallying three steals. Forward Kipper Nichols shot 3-of-4 from the field and pulled down three rebounds. Even guard Jalen Coleman-Lands, with five points to his name, enjoyed “one of the most complete games he’s played in two years,” in the words of Illinois coach John Groce.

Meanwhile, Taphorn and junior forward Gavin Skelly combined to make just 2-of-10 shots, as the Fighting Illini bench outscored the Cats’ limited second unit 30-13.

“The bench was huge,” Groce said. “We talk a lot of strength in numbers and having everybody ready to go, and I thought we got contributions from everybody that played today.”

Yet again, NU suffered a catastrophic stretch midway through the opening half that forced it to play catch-up. Less than a week after giving up a 23-6 first-half run to Purdue, the Cats let an early 10-4 lead fall victim to a 15-0 Illinois run that proved the first sign that the night might not go well for the hosts.

“They got a couple layups in transition. They hit a couple threes,” Collins said. “I didn’t think it was going well, (so) we called a timeout there and just tried to regain our poise.”

NU rallied to tie the game at 28 entering halftime, but was unable to carry that momentum through the break and soon fell behind again.

Then, after trailing throughout much of the second frame, 3-pointers from McIntosh and Law twice gave NU narrow leads and brought a crowd of 7,614 to its feet.

Law’s triple proved the last field goal the Cats would make, however.

Illinois’ Te’Jon Lucas hit a layup with 1:37 left to break a 61-61 deadlock, then Finke delivered his final blow off the bench, swishing a long jumper with 1:09 left to give his team a multi-possession lead for good.

By the time Collins subbed in the only other bench player he used at all — sophomore guard Jordan Ash, who did not score — with nine seconds left, NU’s worst loss of the season was already fully decided.

“When you take a guy out like (Lindsey), everyone then moves up, so now we don’t have Isiah’s scoring off the bench, and obviously Tap…wasn’t 100 percent,” Collins said. “So some of our bench is then taken out when you don’t have Scott. Certainly, though, we’re going to have to figure it out.”

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