Men’s Basketball: Wildcats fall on the road to downstate rival Illinois 72-63


Alison Albelda/Daily Senior Staffer

Anthony Gaines catches the ball in traffic. The sophomore guard scored 9 points on Sunday.

Andrew Golden, Assistant Sports Editor

Men’s Basketball

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Heading into Sunday’s game against Illinois, Northwestern had an opportunity to do something it had only had one chance to get before: complete a season sweep of an opponent.

After the first half of their game against Illinois (11-18, 7-11 Big Ten), the Wildcats (12-17, 3-15) looked like they were going to get blown out of the building. NU made a furious comeback, at one point cutting the lead to three, but ultimately couldn’t complete it, falling to the in-state rival 81-76.

NU started the game 2-for-12 from the field, including 0-for-7 from behind the arc. The Cats’ cold shooting allowed the Fighting Illini to get out to a 16-4 lead. During this stretch of the game, Illinois fired on all cylinders, going 3-for-4 from behind the arc. Senior center Dererk Pardon was NU’s only effective player, scoring both of the Wildcats’ baskets.

By the time the first half was finished, the Cats were down 39-27. NU finished the half shooting 30 percent from the field, and sophomore Anthony Gaines and Pardon combined to score 18 of the Cats’ 27 first half-points. Illinois shot 48 percent in the first half — Fighting Illini junior guard Andres Feliz scored 11 points in the first half and freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu added two 3-pointers, one more than the Cats had as a team.

“In the first half, they got separation from our inability to make shots,” coach Chris Collins said. “We were 1-for-13 from three and 11 of them were uncontested. I’m not saying you have to make all 13, but not making any of them allowed them to get that double-figure cushion.”

To start the second half, NU looked like a completely different team. Senior forward Vic Law hit a jump shot, graduate guard Ryan Taylor added a three and Pardon scored as he got fouled. Suddenly, NU had cut the lead to 40-34 in the span of a minute and a half.

After only hitting one 3-pointer in the first half, the Cats were able to hit four in the first six minutes of the second period to stay within striking distance. Illinois extended its lead to 42-34, but Taylor hit his second 3-pointer of the second half to cut the lead to five. Later on, after the Fighting Illini extended the lead to nine points, Law and Taylor hit back-to-back threes to make the lead just three.

“We got the same shots, we just made them,” Collins said. “At halftime, Miller Kopp was 0-for-5, Ryan Taylor was 0-for-5… we got open looks all night, one half we didn’t them, the second half we did.”

Illinois’ lead fluctuated between three and 10 throughout the second half, but NU just couldn’t break through to take lead. The Fighting Illini’s aggressive attack got the Cats in foul trouble and when it got to the line, Illinois didn’t miss its shots from the charity stripe.

Gaines and Law both fouled out late in the second half and, at the free throw line, the Fighting Illini shot 33-for-38 to ice the game away late. Feliz finished the game with 26 points, but was 16-for-17 from the charity stripe himself. Despite the outcome, the Cats continued to battle.

“Just never give up,” junior forward A.J. Turner said about the team’s mentality. “I don’t think we’ve ever just completely given up. Despite the struggles we’ve had, we continue to fight.”

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