Men’s Basketball: Fighting Illini complete season sweep of Wildcats


Joshua Hoffman/The Daily Northwestern

Boo Buie handles the ball. Buie and the Wildcats dropped their 12th game in a row Thursday to Illinois.

John Riker, Assistant Sports Editor

Men’s Basketball

On Jan. 18, Illinois edged in-state rival Northwestern behind sophomore guard Ayo Dosunmu, who scored four points in the final 18 seconds.

Dosunmu was at full power again with 21 points as the Wildcats (6-21, 1-16 in Big Ten) hosted the Fighting Illini (19-9, 11-6) on Thursday, but when NU threatened to even the rivalry with a late run, Illinois looked to an unlikely place — backup sophomore guard Alan Griffin.

Griffin’s five second-half 3-pointers and career-high 24 points helped Illinois finish off the Cats, 74-66, and complete a season sweep of NU. Though the Cats’ offense came alive in the second half, it wasn’t enough to snap their 12-game losing streak.

“Griffin’s shooting really opened up the game for them,” coach Chris Collins said. “The x-factor tonight was certainly Griffin’s six threes, which gave them the separation they needed.”

Illinois freshman center Kofi Cockburn asserted his dominance early, owning the paint on both ends of the floor with 10 points and seven rebounds in the first half. Propelled by the contributions of Cockburn and Dosunmu, who added 13 in the frame, the Fighting Illini went on a 21-5 run midway through the half and built a comfortable lead over the offensively-dormant Cats.

Then, NU’s shots started falling. The Cats converted on six of their first nine attempts in the second half, and a lead that was firmly in double-digits for stretches of the first half was down to five.

The next possession, Griffin connected on a 3-pointer to turn the game’s momentum and followed it up by making his next five shots. Despite an 18-point night from graduate transfer guard Pat Spencer and a 12-point effort off the bench from sophomore forward Pete Nance, the Cats couldn’t keep up.

“We’ve always known he can do that,” coach Brad Underwood said of Griffin. “He adds another dimension. We all know he can shoot, rebound, the thing he did tonight was make some nice drives to the basket and make some nice passes. He’s becoming a really good Big Ten basketball player.”

After getting manhandled by Minnesota on Sunday at home, NU found another gear against Illinois. The Cats pressured the Fighting Illini into eight turnovers, held Illinois starters Trent Frazier and Andres Feliz to a combined 4-for-22 shooting, and piled up 40 points in the second half. But NU suffered defensive lapses late and couldn’t string together a run to close the gap. Collins commended his team’s effort in the defeat.

“Our guys really responded from Sunday,” Collins said. “The effort, the fight, all those things were there at a really high level. Every time they tried to get separation in the game, we kept fighting back and kept ourselves within distance.”

After the Minnesota loss, Collins met with his team to set the tone for the rest of the season. The refresh didn’t result in a victory over a heated rival, but the difference in tone was evident.

“We met a little bit about how we want to finish this thing out, how we want to continue to show growth, how we want to continue to fight and try to find a few wins along the way, and also how to set ourselves up,” Collins said. “It’s about these guys using this experience and getting better from it.”

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