It was not Northwestern’s night in any way.
Illinois brought three bus loads of students to join the large orange contingent already expected to comprise Welsh-Ryan Arena for this sold out Big Ten battle. Battle actually might be putting it nicely. The score — 62-41 in Illinois’ favor — was bad enough. It did not describe how bad this night really was.
What did? During a timeout contest a Northwestern fan appeared to win the big prize . . . only to tear off his purple shirt to reveal the orange of the Orange Krush student section occupying all those seats in the upper reaches of the building (you know, where you can’t see anything on the court). The ultimate troll moment only punctuated a night that was saved from embarrassment by a late scoring “surge.”
There was not much offense for Northwestern in this one.
The Wildcats scored only 15 points in the first half, failed to score in the first five minutes of the second half, gave up a 20-0 run that gave the Illini absolute control of the game and had only five points in the first 10 minutes of the second half. Again, a scoring “burst” near the end of the game saved the Cats from their worst scoring performance under Bill Carmody and enabled them to reach 40 points.
This is one where you burn the tape and forget the whole thing ever happened.
Northwestern was simply beat physically and athletically by this confident Illinois bunch. The Illini were able to turn the Wildcats’ missed shots into fast break opportunities. And with so many shots missing, Northwestern’s effort on defense was a bit lacking. There were lots of times in the first half when NU was able to defend and force Illinois into quick 3-pointers. It was not enough. Not the way the offense was going in this game.
The Wildcats made only 12 of their 48 field goals and 5 of their 27 3-point attempts. That should tell you about all you need to know of the team’s offensive exploits in this game. Need more proof? Northwestern had 14 turnovers — yes, more turnovers than field goal makes. Two starters — Dave Sobolewski and Mike Turner — failed to score.
There was just not a lot to feel good about. Maybe nine assists on those 12 field goal makes. Maybe making 12 of 15 free throws. But that is just grasping at straws for something positive to talk about.
Northwestern was down by 30 points for a good chunk of the second half and were building a house with all the bricks the team was laying. As I noted after the Ohio State game earlier this weekend, Northwestern needed to make shots early to gain confidence. That did not happen. And this team does not have the ability to survive such long stretches without scoring. This is a team that has to — as cliche as it is beginning to sound — extend games and value each possession.
That did not quite happen with Northwestern missing so many shots throughout the game and never getting a good rhythm. Illinois’ defense had a lot to do with that. They pressured the ball and forced Northwestern further and further away from the basket. It disrupted some of the timing of the offense and NU could not make Illinois pay for it by making shots.
Yes, the game is that simple. Northwestern needed to make shots. The Wildcats did not. The Illini did. And, well, that is what happened.