Illinois edges NU 59-56

By Avrami Hacker

Fueled by an in-state rivalry game and a packed Welsh-Ryan Arena, the ‘Cats (9-8, 2-8 B1G) contended with the Big Ten-leading Fighting Illini (15-5, 8-2 B1G) but were outlasted in the final two minutes, falling 59-56.

The ‘Cats started out slowly offensively, hitting a dismal 6-26 field goals and a 2-9 from deep.  The only true consistent offensive player for the ‘Cats was Pete Nance, shooting 3-7 from the field and scoring both of his free throws in the first half. Northwestern’s offense started to click at stretches, especially in transition. Seven of the Wildcats’ points in the first half came off Illinois turnovers.

Additionally, Illinois’ interior defense was too much for Northwestern when driving to the cup.  Illinois had three blocks to go along with four steals, stifling Northwestern’s offense. The interior defense of Illinois was led by starting center Kofi Cockburn, who cleaned up the glass with five boards (four defensive) and played a big role as a rim protector that altered shot after shot. Lastly, Illinois had seven second-chance points to go along with seven assists while Northwestern had zero second-chance points and only two assists.

At the beginning of the second half, both teams started out sluggish with multiple scoring droughts on both sides. However, as the second half progressed, Northwestern started making an offensive push led by Pete Nance, who canned two more three pointers and scored12 points in the second frame. The ‘Cats also got a spark from Elyjah Williams, scoring seven crucial points off the bench and helping NU lead a charge midway through the second half.  On the other side through, Cockburn continued to have himself a game and dominated the interior on both ends.

He finished with 22 points on 10-17 shooting to go along with nine boards and three assists. The ‘Cats were no match for Cockburn’s physicality down the stretch, falling 59-56. This loss once again begs a familiar question for NU fans: why can’t the ‘Cats finish out close games? Time will tell if Northwestern will have consistent breakthroughs, similar to that of its upset win against Michigan State.

The ‘Cats will return to Welsh-Ryan Arena Tuesday, Feb. 1 to take on Rutgers at 6 pm CT. Gavin Dorsey and Ashley Tumpowsky will be on the call for WNUR on Mixlr, beginning shortly before tip-off.