Men’s Basketball: Northwestern shows signs of life in close loss to in-state rival Illinois


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Robbie Beran goes up for a shot. The true freshman had a career-best 17 points in NU’s loss to Illinois on Saturday.

Gabriela Carroll, Assistant Sports Editor

Men’s Basketball

Northwestern has stumbled through its entire Big Ten slate like a baby deer learning to use its legs.

Now, the Wildcats might just be ready to stand.

No, NU (6-11, 1-6 Big Ten) did not defeat No. 24 Illinois (13-5, 5-2) on Saturday, instead falling in a 75-71 loss. Yet, a close game against a ranked Big Ten opponent on the road can’t help but feel like a bit of a win, especially considering how well the Cats played. Road wins in the Big Ten are hard to come by — Big Ten teams are 38-6 at home.

Coach Chris Collins, however, does not see it that way.

“We didn’t drive through the Siberian snowstorm last night to be a sacrificial lamb,” Collins said. “We put together a plan here to compete to win.”

Against Iowa on Tuesday, Collins described the team as fatigued after NU stuck around until the midpoint of the second half, when the Cats allowed a huge run from Luka Garza from which they would not recover.

On Saturday against the Fighting Illini, it seemed as though NU was headed for a similar fate, when Illinois was up by eight at the five-minute mark and the Cats had not scored in almost three minutes. But NU fought back and pulled within three points in the final minutes, thanks to timely threes from sophomore forward Miller Kopp and senior forward A.J. Turner.

Freshman forward Robbie Beran turned in a career-best performance, ending the game with 17 points after shooting 3-for-6 from behind the arc. Making threes at a 41.4 percent clip, Beran has the highest 3-point percentage on the team, and he attempted more threes in this game than in any previous game in his career.

NU shot significantly better from the 3-point line than it has in any of its past five games. The Cats went 8-for-19 from behind the arc, shooting 42.1 percent. If it can continue to get double-figure performances out of most of its starters — each starter besides sophomore forward Pete Nance scored over 10 points — NU has the potential to become a threat in the Big Ten.

“It just stinks because I see how much better we are getting, but the results aren’t there,” coach Collins said. “I’m seeing a lot of positives, but we’re not a moral victory program.”

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