Rapid Recap: No. 12 Illinois 81, Northwestern 56


Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

Chase Audige dribbles down the floor. Audige had just four points in Thursday’s loss to Illinois.

John Riker, Assistant Sports Editor

Men’s Basketball

Two road losses to ranked teams dropped Northwestern out of the AP Top 25, but against in-state rival No. 12 Illinois on Thursday, the Wildcats looked initially like they’d regained the composure of a team with March Madness aspirations. In one of NU’s strongest halves of the season, the Cats took a 43-28 lead and held the Illini star duo in check.

In the second half, NU looked the part of its 2019-20 iteration. Illinois (8-3, 4-1 in Big Ten) flipped its 15-point deficit into a commanding lead in just over 10 minutes. The Cats (6-3, 3-2) never recovered as Illinois handed them a 81-56 loss, dropping them to an even 3-3 in Big Ten play.

The Cats’ offense got off to a slow start, missing its first four field goal attempts and falling behind Illinois from the start. NU found its rhythm when the first substitution came in, riding a 9-1 run into 15-13 lead.

The Illini stayed within striking range but couldn’t take back their lead. An opportunistic Cats defense converted 11 first-half Illinois turnovers into 12 points and held the Illini star duo of center Kofi Cockburn and guard Ayo Dosunmu to just nine combined points.

With five minutes left in the half, the NU defense tightened further. The Cats suffocated the Illinois offensive attack and prevented a single make from the field for the rest of the half. NU turned the stops into points, tacking on 12 points and opening a 43-28 lead going into the halftime break.

The Cats’ 15-point lead evaporated to start the second half. Illinois catapulted into the lead with a 28-5 run. The dominant 12-minute stretch included nine points and seven rebounds by Cockburn.

NU was unable to respond to the Illinois blitz. The Cats missed 13 of 14 shots to open the second half and attempted just two shots from behind the arc during that stretch.

The Illini didn’t let their feet off the gas pedal, extending their lead all the way to the final margin of 25 points.


1. A Reversal of Fortune
The Cats returned to earth after a dream 3-0 start in Big Ten play, but after routs at the hands of No. 5 Iowa and No. 10 Michigan, the Cats shook off the rough outings with a masterful first half. Against an Illinois squad that ranked second in the Big Ten in rebounds per game and boasted the conference’s top rebounder in Cockburn, the Cats outrebounded their in-state rivals 17-16 in the first half. NU’s effort was even more apparent in the turnover margin — 11 forced Illinois turnovers to just four for the Cats. NU wasn’t afraid to get dirty, diving for loose balls and igniting fast break opportunities.

The roles flipped after the break. The Illini blitzed the NU defense with 23 points in the half’s first eight minutes and took advantage of a rash of turnovers by the Cats. The onslaught, led by a surging Cockburn, robbed the Cats of their first-half momentum. When it was all over, Illinois had made its statement against its in-state rival.

2. Dosunmu Slowed, But Cockburn Dominates
Ayo Dosunmu entered the night as the second-leading scorer in the Big Ten. The Cats succeeded in slowing the star guard for the majority of the game, but Illinois’ other star got going in the second half and could not be stopped.
Down 15 at the half, Cockburn dominated the Cats on both ends of the floor. Cockburn bullied his way to perfect 6-6 shooting on NU’s zone defense, along with eight rebounds and a couple of swats for the Illini. Cockburn’s second half takeover was emblematic of an Illini squad that looked the part of a Final Four contender.

3. Buie Hits the Bench
Of all of the bright spots on NU’s roster, Boo Buie’s recent performance has not been one of them. Buie, who scored 30 in the Cats’ win over then-No. 4 Michigan State, missed all six of his shots in NU’s loss to Michigan. Buie didn’t simply struggle against Illinois — he barely saw the floor. Despite starting, Buie played just 15 minutes and picked up four fouls while missing all six of his shot attempts. Whether due to injury or confidence, Buie’s struggles have been debilitating for the Cats’ offense and robbed the Cats of a potential spark in the wake of Illinois’ dominant run.

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