Northwestern tournament picture blurred by loss to Illinois

Northwestern couldn’t take advantage of a sold-out Welsh-Ryan Arena Tuesday night. 

By: Will Greer

It wouldn’t – couldn’t – be as easy as Northwestern was making it look through 22 games. That’s not how ending a 78-year NCAA Tournament drought works.

After an 18-4 start to the season, a six-game conference winning streak, and a late January, campus-wide feeling that this was going to finally be the year, Northwestern dropped its second straight game on Tuesday night to lowly Illinois, 68-61.

Northwestern (18-6, 7-4 B1G) was without leading scorer Scottie Lindsey against the Fighting Illini and not coincidentally, the Wildcats struggled offensively for most of the game.

Chris Collins’ squad shot just 34 percent from the field, made just six three-pointers on 20 attempts, and had three scoreless stretches of at least three minutes.

Despite those struggles, the ‘Cats found themselves tied at 56 with Illinois (14-11, 4-8 B1G) as the teams headed to their huddles for the under-four-minute media timeout.

Out of the timeout, Bryant McIntosh seemingly executed the play Collins drew up to perfection, driving baseline and finding a wide-open Vic Law in the corner for a potential go-ahead three.

Law, who finished with 16 points and 9 rebounds, connected, giving Northwestern a 59-56 lead with 3:31 remaining and sending purpled-out Welsh-Ryan Arena into a frenzy.

But Illinois’ Michael Finke responded with a trifecta three possessions later, igniting a game-ending 12-2 run for the visitors. Finke finished with 11 points on 4-6 shooting and a couple of clutch corner threes.

The Wildcats’ first bad loss of the season and a back-loaded schedule that features five out of seven games against top-50 KenPom teams brings cause for concern as the ‘Cats head down the homestretch of what they hope will be a history-making campaign.

Theoretically speaking, Northwestern is still comfortably on the right side of the bubble. But Tuesday night’s loss should at least add a word and a question mark to the widespread “this is the year” mentality surrounding Northwestern basketball so far this season: right?

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