Men’s Basketball: “A tale of two different games” as Northwestern’s double-digit lead evaporates in loss to No. 12 Illinois

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Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

Ryan Greer drives to the basket. The junior guard was the primary point guard in Thursday’s game against Illinois.

Gabriela Carroll, Web Editor


Men’s Basketball


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

On Thursday, a 15-point halftime lead evaporated into thin air in a lopsided 81-56 loss to rival No. 12 Illinois.

“We’re very disappointed, especially the way we played in the first half,” coach Chris Collins said. “We thought we had a good stranglehold of the game. It just really got away from us in a big way in the second half.”

NU (6-4, 3-3 Big Ten) dominated the first half. The Cats shot 51.6 percent from the field, and virtually every player found success on offense. Junior guard Anthony Gaines and sophomore center Ryan Young were hitting threes — freshman guard Ty Berry scored five straight near the end of the half — and despite only scoring two points, junior guard Ryan Greer stood out as a strong offensive facilitator.

Defensively, the Cats held the Illini to 34.8 percent shooting. Illinois couldn’t figure out NU’s 3-2 zone, and turned the ball over 11 times. The Cats held Illini stars Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn to just nine combined points, and it looked like NU was returning to its winning ways.

After the half, the game completely changed.

The Cats scored just two field goals in the entire half, and turned the ball over nine times. Illinois outscored NU 53-13 in the second half.

53-13.

“Once we lost our lead, we lost our poise,” Collins said. “We were just never able to get back in the game.”

Those who turned on the game in the second half could be forgiven for not knowing that the Cats led for just one minute less than the Illini.

All of the energy in the second half came from the Illinois bench. After the Illini started the half with a 8-0 run, the bench exploded, providing a needed burst of energy. They were the loudest group in a mostly empty Welsh-Ryan arena.

“I felt we had a lot of momentum in the first half and we had the energy and we had the life, and then they hit us with that spurt to start the second half,” Collins said. “You felt the energy shift, and it gave them life. Then you really heard their bench and you heard their energy.”

But even during an idyllic first half, sophomore guard Boo Buie continued to struggle. After scoring no points during Saturday’s game at Michigan, he was blanked yet again, and saw most of his minutes taken by Greer.

When he’s on, Buie is a force to be reckoned with offensively. After a career performance against Michigan State and a game-winning score against Ohio State, his ability to change a game is unquestioned. But in the past two games, Collins said Buie’s lost some of his confidence.

“We have the utmost confidence in (Buie),” Collins said. “He’s shown he can play at a really high level. We just got to get him back doing that, and it’s a collective effort. It’s not just about him, it’s all of us helping him get back to that level.”

The Cats have proven they have the ability to compete in the Big Ten. But with three straight losses, they need to find a way to break out of the current losing streak and become more consistent if they want to stay competitive in the Big Ten.

“We’ve shown at times that we are a phenomenal basketball team, playing together,” sophomore forward Robbie Beran said. “We just need to regroup and play the right way, like we’ve known how to play.”

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Twitter: @gablcarroll

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