Men’s Basketball: Northwestern falls to Illinois for second time in 2017


Daily file photo by Rachel Dubner

Bryant McIntosh handles the ball. The junior went cold in the second half as Northwestern’s offense sputtered against the Fighting Illini.

Garrett Jochnau, Sports Editor

Men’s Basketball

There was plenty of motivation for Northwestern on Tuesday. Facing in-state rival Illinois, the Wildcats stood on the brink of history with a chance to avenge an earlier defeat and bolster their tournament resume with March rapidly approaching.

Instead, NU (20-8, 9-6 Big Ten) fell completely flat, delivering a hopeless offensive performance and falling to the Fighting Illini 66-50.

“I didn’t feel like we came to fight,” junior guard Bryant McIntosh said. “I thought we just came to play a game, and in the Big Ten that will get you beat.”

The loss marked the Cats’ second this season at the hands of Illinois (16-12, 6-9), and followed a similar storyline to that episode in the opening half. Earlier in February, NU began slow against the Fighting Illini but found a groove late in the first period to make the game competitive entering the break.

Once again, the Cats sputtered out of the gate, with McIntosh carrying a lifeless offensive attack on tired shoulders. Junior guard Scottie Lindsey — who missed the first meeting with an illness — continued his shaky return, while sophomore forward Vic Law posted another scoring dud, failing to find a rhythm in the opening minutes.

“I want to credit (Illinois’) defense,” coach Chris Collins said. “I thought they played really hard, I thought they had a good game plan, I thought they were physical.”

But the hosts let NU hang within striking distance, thanks to a strong off-the-bench showing from junior forward Gavin Skelly, who added 7 points on 2-of-3 shooting before the intermission. Freshman guard Isiah Brown also pitched in a less efficient 7 in the first half, as the reserve duo’s output combined with McIntosh’s 12 points to cut the deficit to 1 by halftime.

The Cats again failed to flip the narrative in the second half against Illinois. But unlike the first meeting, which featured an inspired second-half push by McIntosh before last-minute heartbreak, the rematch saw no such comeback down the stretch.

NU’s struggling offense hit new lows, with the uninspired scoring attack exacerbated by McIntosh’s second-half scoring drought. The guard managed just 4 points after the break on 1-of-9 shooting, and Law and Lindsey were held without a field goal in the period and finished with just 5 combined points on the night.

“I thought Bryant got off to a good start, and then our inability to get anybody else going … wore him down,” Collins said. “He showed it in the second half. He’s got to get some help.”

Meanwhile, Illinois cleaned up its sloppy first-half play and left NU in the dust. Guard Malcolm Hill, who finished with a game-high 18 points, paced the hosts through the close. The senior led Illinois on its crucial 12-0 mid-half run, leaving the Cats in the rearview window searching for a semblance of rhythm.

But the search was futile. NU went nearly 10 minutes without a field goal until senior forward Nathan Taphorn connected from deep with 1:11 remaining, at which point the damage was done.

Illinois coasted to the win, completing its season sweep of the Cats and handing its in-state rival another potential setback in its quest for a first-ever tournament bid.

“Nothing’s guaranteed at this point,” McIntosh said. “We can do something special or we can … just let this slip away.”

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