In an effort to make their first potential bid to the NCAA Tournament as stressful as possible, Northwestern (20-8, 9-6 B1G) fell to Illinois (16-12, 6-9 B1G) for the second time this season, this time by a score of 66-50.
The game was marred by poor shooting, turnovers, foul trouble and a brutal 20-5 run by the Illinois late in the second half to put the game away. Although the Illini didn’t pull away until late, the troubles were evident from the start when forward Vic Law committed two fouls in the first two minutes. After sitting for a few minutes, he returned only to quickly commit his third foul and sit for the remainder of the half. Without Law, the offense struggled, looking slow at times and lacking fluidity.
However, guard Bryant McIntosh singlehandedly kept the ‘Cats afloat in the first with 12 points, four rebounds and two assists in the half. Law and guard Scottie Lindsey, the team’s top two scorers, combined for a total of two points in the first half, and the half finished with Illinois up 33-32. Lindsey, who just returned from an illness last game, finished the game 1-11 from the field with just two points. Law also finished with just three points before fouling out with a few minutes to play.
In the second half, B-Mac’s hero ball began to falter, and so did the ‘Cats. McIntosh had just four points in the second half, and a one point game soon turned into a blowout. Northwestern didn’t manage to score for the first four minutes of the half, and the turnovers continued to pile up for the ‘Cats (they eventually finished with 11). Eventually, Illinois blew it open with a vicious 20-5 run that brought the score to 59-43, sealing the deal for the Illini.
What does this mean for the ‘Cats? We can’t be sure yet – they still have a few impressive wins on their resume (including the recent one over Wisconsin), but getting swept by a mediocre-to-bad Illinois team can’t look too good to the section committee. Moreover, the ‘Cats need Lindsey to regain his form if they want to succeed in conference tournament and NCAA play. All in all, it was nothing short of a troubling loss for Northwestern.