Men’s Basketball: Northwestern’s season ends against Illinois 74-69 in a heartbreaking fashion


Katie Pach/Daily Senior Staffer

Dererk Pardon lays the ball in. The senior center scored 17 points on Wednesday.

Andrew Golden, Assistant Sports Editor

Men’s Basketball

With under two seconds remaining in regulation, Northwestern was one stop away from taking the game into overtime against Illinois. On the inbounds play, the Wildcats left Fighting Illini guard Andres Feliz wide open, but he missed an easy layup to give NU another chance to pull off the upset.

It seemed that NU (13-19, 4-16 Big Ten) had caught a break and the luck had finally swung in its favor. After a 3-pointer by junior forward Aaron Falzon to open overtime gave the Cats a glimmer of hope, Illinois (12-20, 7-13) responded by outscoring NU 13-5 and ruining its upset chances with a 74-69 victory.

“I thought you had two teams that played incredibly hard,” coach Chris Collins said. “Kind of went back and forth punch for punch. In overtime they made a couple more plays than we did.”

Without senior forward Vic Law, the team’s leading scorer, the Cats increased their level of play and battled for the whole game, but just couldn’t make the clutch shots late to alter the outcome.

The poor shooting that has plagued NU all season continued early on in the game. The Cats started the game 7-for-25 from the field and senior Dererk Pardon, NU’s second-leading scorer, ended the first half with seven points from the field on 2-for-6 shooting.

On the other side of the ball, the Cats and the Fighting Illini were locked in a tight defensive battle, but NU couldn’t contain Giorgi Bezhanishvili. The Illinois forward scored the Fighting Illini’s first 14 points and started 6-for-9 from the field. The Cats held the rest of Illinois to 0-for-8 shooting from the field during that stretch.

Despite the fact that NU shot 32.4 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes, the Cats entered the locker room down by just three.

The second half was a complete flip from the first half as Pardon and junior forward A.J. Turner came out firing, combining to score 12 points in just under four minutes. Turner finished the game with 20 points in Law’s absence and was stellar handling the ball throughout the game.

With under two minutes remaining, sophomore guard Anthony Gaines stole the ball from guard Ayo Dosunmu and got fouled driving to the basket. Gaines made the first and missed the second, but Falzon tapped the ball out and NU was able to get another possession.

Freshman forward Miller Kopp took a mid-range jumper, but missed and, on the other end, fouled Feliz, who converted an old-fashioned three-point play to give Illinois a two-point lead. Turner got fouled on the other end and hit both free throws and tie the game at 61 before the junior college transfer missed and sent the game to overtime.

In overtime, both teams traded baskets, but Illinois hit back-to-back threes to extend the lead to five. Falzon hit a three to trim the lead to two, but the Fighting Illini were just too much.

Another basket and a free throw put the game out of reach and the Cats fell to Illinois for the second time in the past two weeks. NU will now have to go back to the drawing board for next season after finishing this season losing 11 of its last 12.

“Now we face ourselves in a position where we’ve got to build it again, and I’m committed to doing that,” Collins said. “It’s going to take a lot of work. We’ve got to get better. I’ve got to be better. We’ve all got to get better.”

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