Men’s Basketball: Northwestern’s offense bottoms out in loss to Illinois

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Daily file photo by Rachel Dubner

Scottie Lindsey attempts a contested shot. The junior guard went 1-of-11 in the Wildcats’ loss to Illinois.

Max Schuman, Digital Projects Editor


Men’s Basketball


With little more than a minute to go in Tuesday’s game at Illinois, senior forward Nathan Taphorn took two dribbles off a screen from the top of the key and hit a pull-up 3.

The play itself had no bearing on the final outcome — Northwestern (20-8, 9-6 Big Ten) trailed by 14 after the 3 — but it carried symbolic weight. Taphorn’s basket was the Wildcats’ first field goal since the 10:27 mark of the second half, capping a dismal 18-point showing in the period that doomed NU to a 66-50 defeat at the hands of the Fighting Illini (16-12, 6-9).

The Cats shot a horrendous 5-of-27 in the second half and Illinois capitalized. Over that nine-plus minute stretch without an NU make, the hosts outscored the Cats 19-5, turning a 33-32 lead at halftime into a blowout win when the whistle sounded.

“(The Fighting Illini) had a great spirit to them, and I felt it all night,” coach Chris Collins said. “They were really trying to deny certain things, pressure the ball. I just felt they were a step quicker.”

Illinois leveraged its athleticism and depth into a strong defensive performance. The Fighting Illini corralled NU’s ball-handlers at the point of attack and recovered to the Cats’ shooters to yield few open looks from outside.

With its offense knocked out of rhythm by pressure, NU notched just five assists to 11 turnovers in the game, and junior guard Bryant McIntosh said the Illinois defense played a role in the Cats’ poor execution.

“It’s hard to run offense at 35 feet,” he said. “They pushed us out on the floor … I don’t feel like we ran our stuff.”

But in many ways, NU’s feeble second half was the culmination of worrying trends on the offensive end that have manifested as the team battled the heart of its conference schedule. In its past seven games including Tuesday’s loss, the Cats haven’t cracked 70 points while shooting just 39 percent from the field and 27 percent from 3.

Sophomore forward Vic Law has shot just 20 percent from the field over that stretch, including an 0-for-4 line against Illinois, while junior guard Scottie Lindsey was a non-factor in his second game back from a four-game absence with illness, shooting 1-for-11. With his wings combining for a mere 5 points, McIntosh was forced to carry a massive load and found some success, notching 16 points.

By the end of the game, though, it was clear that McIntosh couldn’t do it alone. After being hounded constantly throughout the game, NU’s point guard finished 6-of-17 from the field and scored just 4 points in the second half.

“Not being able to get anybody else established … put a lot on Bryant,” Collins said. “It’s going to wear Bryant out if he has to do everything.”

With minimal contributions from the supporting cast, the Cats slumped to their lowest point total of the season. And on the cusp of locking up an NCAA Tournament berth for the first time in program history, NU left Champaign with serious questions about how to get its offense on track for the push toward March.

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Twitter: @maxschuman28

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