With less than a minute to go in the first half, junior guard Dave Sobolewski pulled up for a jumper, got blocked and was called for a charge all in the same motion. That scenario pretty much sums up the Northwestern's first half against the Illinois State Redbirds.
Well, either that, or the monster alley-oop by ISU in the first half, sparking the run that ultimately ended in the 68-64 defeat for Northwestern (1-2) at the hands of the Redbirds (1-2) Sunday night.
“They pretty much outplayed us in every facet in the first half,” head coach Chris Collins said.
After an early-season three-point-shooting hot streak, Northwestern cooled off completely, shooting zero-for-seven from downtown in the first half and five-of-18 overall.
The second half, however, was a different story. The 'Cats were able to close the gap to just three points. While they were outrebounded 23-14 in the first half, they beat ISU on the boards 26-20 in the second.
“We scored 42 points in the second half,” Collins said. “We did a lot of good things in the second half, but you can’t spot a team 20 points.”
Sophomore forward Kale Abrahamson helped ignite the late comeback, and was one of Northwestern’s few bright spots. He finished with eight points, an assist and three rebounds in just 17 minutes.
“Kale played great tonight,” senior captain Drew Crawford said. “He really gave us a spark.”
The second half comeback, closing the once-19 point deficit down to single digits before ISU was able to sneak out with the win. That stretch got the crowd back into it. The student section turnout was, once again, weak. ISU’s fans, though they were outnumbered, dominated the arena until the closing moments, when the 'Cats had fought their way back into the game.
Despite the comeback, Collins was disappointed.
“At the end of the day, you either win or you lose,” Collins said. “I’m not a big moral victory guy. Never have been.”
ISU’s roster doesn’t feature a single senior. They looked like the more composed and put together team early in the game, but once they felt the pressure from the 'Cats, they looked flustered.
Northwestern has been reliant on Crawford and junior guard JerShon Cobb to produce points. Tonight, that wasn’t quite enough. On a night when the threes weren’t falling, production suffered, as Crawford finished with 13 points and Cobb with a team-high 19.
Something significant needs to happen if the ‘Cats want Big Ten play to run even sort of smoothly. Now that they have a losing record, the just have to look forward and adjust.
“We didn’t quit," Collins said. “We’re not going to quit. I know the make-up of the guys in my locker room. No one’s going to quit. We’re going to keep fighting.”
The 'Cats take a trip down to the University of Illinois at Chicago on Wed., Nov. 20 and look to bring their record to .500.