Men’s Basketball: Dosunmu’s late threes doom Cats’ comeback bid against Illinois

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Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

Junior forward Pete Nance goes up for a block attempt against Illinois on Jan. 7. Nance scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half, but the Cats’ upset bid came up short.

John Riker, Assistant Sports Editor


Men’s Basketball


When Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu made a three-pointer from several feet beyond the arc, it sealed Illinois’ win over in-state rival Northwestern.

Going up against a Fighting Illini team ranked No. 5 in the nation and boasting two All-American talents in Dosunmu and center Kofi Cockburn, the Cats did all they could to hold Illinois down and still came up short against a more talented team.

Behind 22 points from sophomore guard Chase Audige, NU recovered from a disastrous opening on the road to pull within a point of its hosts, but the Fighting Illini (15-5, 11-3 Big Ten) held on to hand the Cats (6-13, 3-12) their 12th consecutive defeat.

“Guys like that are going to score,” coach Chris Collins said of Illinois’ star tandem. “You’re not going to stop them. You just have to try to take away what they are trying to do, and I thought we did a pretty good job.”

The Fighting Illini didn’t even rely on Dosunmu and Cockburn in a lopsided first half that threatened to turn the intrastate contest into a rout. Illinois got contributions from their entire rotation in a half that saw them shoot 60 percent from the field.

By the ten-minute mark, the Fighting Illini had built a 25-7 lead. Illinois’ defense fully discombobulated the Cats’ offensive attack, which missed all 10 of its three-point attempts in the first half and struggled to keep up with the pace of the Fighting Illini in transition.

“I don’t know if we could have played more poorly on our end,” Collins said. “I don’t want to diminish how good (the Fighting Illini) are, but we did not start off well.”

NU closed its deficit to 12 points to end the half and found its shooting stroke to start the second. A 12-4 run that included three-point makes on three consecutive possessions pulled the Cats within two possessions.

While NU reversed its three-point shooting trend to open the second half, Cockburn ensured that the Cats wouldn’t take the lead. He had his way with NU in the post, scoring 10 points across roughly the first 10 minutes of the second half after foul trouble restricted him to just five minutes of action in the first half.

A combined 25 second-half points from Audige and junior forward Pete Nance helped NU pull to within a point with just under five minutes to go, and with 1:50 to go, the Cats were down just 65-63 to their nationally ranked rivals.

Dosunmu, who scored just three points in the first half, answered the call. The Chicago native scored eight of his 13 points in the final five minutes, including back-to-back three-pointers to boost Illinois’ lead to eight points and put the game out of reach.

“For the most part, we took away his right hand to the basket,” Collins said. “If you’re going to live with something, it’s going to be NBA threes.”

In a month that’s seen NU face adversity on all sides — the Cats even saw their routine bus ride down to Champaign prolonged by inclement weather — Collins took pride in his players’ resolve in competing and rallying against a top-five team in the nation.

“It would be easy to not invest as much or fight the way we have,” he said. “It’s a testament to the older guys, the leadership of the team that they’ve come every day and continued. It’s given me and my staff great energy to fight for them and to continue to work to get this thing right.”

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Twitter: @john__riker

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