Rapid Recap: Illinois 74 Northwestern 66


(Joshua Hoffman, The Daily Northwestern). Robbie Beran drives the lane. The freshman forward struggled to score against Illinois.

Gabriela Carroll, Assistant Sports Editor

Northwestern held in there for as long as it could, but against a talented team like Illinois, it wasn’t enough to propel the Wildcats to victory.

NU (6-21, 1-16 Big Ten) lost their 12th straight game Thursday against the Illini (19-9, 11-6 Big Ten), 74-66 despite one of graduate Pat Spencer’s best performances of the season, because of Illinois’ stellar three point shooting in the second half.

In the opening minutes of the game, despite a relatively even offensive opening, the Illini clearly dominated the crowd. Welsh-Ryan Arena was louder than it’s been all season after Illinois’ first basket. The intensity of the orange-clad crowd made it feel like a road game in Evanston.

NU struggled in the later minutes of the first half, relying on a strong game from sophomore forward Pete Nance, strong offensive rebounding, and the Illini’s six turnovers to go into the half with a single-digit deficit.

The Cats came out firing in the second half with a slam dunk by freshman forward Robbie Beran and a three pointer by sophomore forward Miller Kopp. Kopp was mostly quiet in the first half with only four points, but his two threes on the second half propelled NU to within five points within the first five minutes of the second half.

But the Illini roared back, and their 5-0 run at the 10 minute mark had the crowd on their feet. After a timeout, Nance silenced the crowd and slowed the momentum with a jumper, but Illinois’ hands just got hotter, and the Cats couldn’t keep up.

1. Illinois turnovers keep NU in the game in the first half

The offense shot a measly 32.3 percent from the field, and the Cats couldn’t keep up with an Illini offense shooting 50 percent from the field. But Illinois turned the ball over six times, and NU extended its possessions to keep Illinois from having a shot at the basket.

2. Pat Spencer shines against Illinois.

Spencer led the team with 18 points, and was a consistent offensive threat throughout the game. Spencer shot 8-for-13 from the field, and was unafraid to be aggressive with his shot selection, and was a key part of each of the Cats’ runs. Spencer also secured three rebounds and had three assists, and was the main facilitator of NU’s offense with freshman guard Boo Buie a non-factor for most of the game.

Despite Spencer’s relative inexperience with college basketball, he is unquestionably one of the team’s leaders. His performance kept the team together to rally back to a single-digit deficit in the final minutes. On a team with so many young players, his presence and experience in competitive college sports has made him the emotional center of the team, a role he performed excellently Thursday.

3. Illinois gets hot from three in the second half to bury the Cats for good.

The Illini shot poorly from three in the first, going 2-for-9 from the line. Illinois is one of the worst three point shooting teams in the conference, below even NU at 30.9 percent. But in the second half, the Illini shot 6-for-12, led by role player Alan Griffin, who shot 6-for-7 from behind the arc. The shots started to fall just as the Cats made their early second-half attempt to close the gap.