Welcome into the final gamethread in Lake the Posts history. I’ve been entrusted with the responsibility to bring this one home, which may or may not be a massive mistake on Jay’s part. I’ll be doing my darndest to make this last one the best one possible. I’ll be pumping updates on Twitter, I’ll be posting live updates here, and, shoot, I’ll even do a game recap. So basically what I do every week. But I promise this will be a good one. This is a good game to end on. There have been some great games in this series. For me, I go to the 2005 game where Northwestern hosted in the Illini, who were then #1 in the country. Sure Illinois won handily, but that was a special team and a special atmosphere. There was Dmitri McCamey’s buzzer beater, which overshadowed JerShon Cobb stripping McCamey, jamming a stepback J in his face, then ripping him again, in what was one of my favorite 45 second stretches in NU basketball. While those games were both losses, NU has actually been the better team in this series recently. Since 2009, NU has gone 5-3 against the Illini. Not too shabby.
NU comes in after dropping its last two in very different ways. Against Wisconsin, NU was an absolute dumpster fire. Offensively? Bad. Defensively? Abysmal. There was Nate Taphorn, but that was it. Against Michigan State, it was very different. Northwestern hit a dozen triples and shot 47% from the floor. JerShon Cobb hit all 5 of his first half shots to score 12 points. McIntosh scored 18. Demps scored 17. Taphorn hit 3 triples. NU ran some sets that worked really well (I’d encourage you to look at Jason Dorow’s breakdown over at InsideNU). The ball found the open guy much more than it had at any point earlier. Now for the negative. Northwestern lost the game on giving up 2nd chance points (MSU 12 NU 4) and turning the ball over (MSU 22 points off TOs NU 10 points off TOs). 34-14 in those point categories cancelled out NU’s great shooting and MSU’s poor shooting night. There were other things that suggest that MSU was more anomaly than trend. MSU will not hit as few threes as they did Sunday ever again this year. NU hit a ton of difficult shots that they won’t hit often. Taphorn drilling a stepback with a man in his face comes to mind. Sobolewski popping a three from Ann Arbor is another. Michigan State’s commitment to not rotating let McIntosh and Demps go from three-point line to tin more than once. Northwestern might just have played its best game of the year in East Lansing. I’m not sure they can play that well again.
On the other side of the court, it’s hard not to feel bad for Illinois. Tracy Abrams has been out all year after tearing his ACL in the offseason. Illinois has missed his ability running the point and his replacement Jaylon Tate hasn’t exactly been a revelation. Then their best pure scorer, and one of the best scoring guards in the conference, Rayvonte Rice went down with a broken bone in his left hand. Rice was averaging 17 and 7 before the injury. Before the Rice injury, Illinois notched some decent wins against Baylor and Missouri. Even after the Rice injury, Illinois notched its biggest win of the year against a top ten Maryland team. Of course the game after that, they only scored 43 against Nebrasketball and lost by 10 on the road. So go figure. The cupboard isn’t quite empty for Illinois right now, but it is pretty bare. Malcolm Hill will be their go to guy offensively, averaging 14 and 5.5 this year. Kendrick Nunn, Aaron Cosby, and Ahmad Starks off the bench can also score at the guard spot for the Illini. The frontcourt is more or less consisted of only Nnanna Egwu, member of my All-Name team. He’s 6-11 and athletic, which does not bode well for NU. He doesn’t have a refined game, but he jumps high and protects the rim, as he is just 4 blocks away from setting the Illinois all-time record for blocked shots. Illinois right now is far from the top tier of the Big Ten. But make no mistake, they are the favorite for this one.
PROJECTED STARTING 5
G: Jaylon Tate (3.6 ppg, 2.9 apg)
G: Kendrick Nunn (8.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg)
G: Aaron Cosby (7.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg)
G: Malcolm Hill (13.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg)
C: Nnanna Egwu (7.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg)
G: Bryant McIntosh (12.2 ppg, 4.7 apg)
G: Tre Demps (12.4 ppg, 28.2% 3FG)
F: Sanjay Lumpkin (6.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg)
F: Vic Law (6.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg)
C: Alex Olah (10.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg)
1) Keep The Offense Moving
Against Michigan State, the offense rotated, people were setting off-ball screens, and the ball went through the hoop. Then it stopped towards the end of the game, and NU lost. This time, let’s have the offense work for a full 40.
2) Taphorn As Sixth Man
There’s no reason that Nate Taphorn souldn’t be the first body off the bench right now. He’s been scoring a lot, his rebounding numbers are not terrible for someone who plays as little as he does, and his defense has improved. Get him on the floor.
3) Give Olah Help When He Needs It
Egwu shouldn’t take this game over, but that’s not to say that he can’t. He’s significantly more athletic than Olah, and I’m worried he’s going to have his way on the block. Lumpkin and Law will need to be ready to help out on the block.
7:30–Let’s get started. Early crowd is definitely more orange than purple. Expect an obnoxiously heavy dose of I-L-L I-N-I chants. I don’t like that chant.
7:38–In this edition of “Overreaction Quarterly,” we predict JerShon doesn’t play more than 5 minutes because he was the last player in the layup line. No, but he’s actually moving pretty well out there.
7:46–I’m excited to see the backcourt battle. NU, for the most part, did keep Forbes/Trice under wraps, especially from deep, against MSU. Illini will probably have 4 guards on the floor basically at all times. Gotta lock the perimeter up.
7:53–Hey Wildcat fans, did you know that there are student sections behind both baskets? Did you know that they’re both supposed to stand the whole game and be loud? Can someone relay this information to the MildSide?
7:59–“Centuries” came on and I had a weird flashback to college football season. At least these teams are linked to the college football playoff by only one degree.
8:05–Chicago’s Big Ten team starting but one player from the state of Illinois. Illini with 4. So marketing and stuff.
8:09–First law touch starts with him getting ripped, ends with a contested pull-up J 10 seconds into shot-clock. That is not good.
8:10–Of course, then he hits a nice turnaround jumper. That is good.
8:12–OK, time to catch your breath. 14-13 through just 5 minutes, Illinois has the lead. There’s just no way this shooting continues. Although if neither team cares enough to come within 10 feet of an open shooter, maybe it can keep going.
8:21–So remember when I said NU did a good job locking down the perimeter against Michigan State? That has not held true tonight. Illinois is open and they’re not missing. Cosby is 3-5 from three (he shoots under 30% on the year). Kendrick Nunn is 3-3. I’m almost considering Vassar out there just to bother some people.
8:27–Some of these Collins rotations, man. It was clear Illinois were imposing will on offense, so why put in Sobolewski, an offensive player who’s a defensive liability? This is a game that screams for lots of Law, Skelly, and maybe even Vassar, at least until Illinois cools off.
8:31–Behold the beauty of first half Tre Demps. Will he finish with more than 15? I wouldn’t bet against it. But right now he’s a liability. Had a three blocked, a layup blocked, then lost the handle on the patented Demps spin. Rough start for him.
8:37–NU is about to go on a run. Illinois is regressing to the average from three and NU is doing a great job doubling the post. I expect NU to cut this lead to one possession by the time we get to half time.
8:46–Who do you think would last longer at a Dance Marathon, Chris Collins or John Groce? I say both could make it about 50 hours straight.
Well I was so close to being right. At halftime, Illinois leads Northwestern 37-33. After going silly from deep to start the game, Illinois has cooled off in a big way and have had to resort to dribble penetration and getting to the foul line to hold on to their lead. Northwestern, despite a complete aversion to playing defense at the start of the game, is actually in a pretty good place right now. I really love the defensive scheme Northwestern throws at teams when they enter the ball. The double team isn’t immediate, but once the offensive player starts to move, he’s swarmed. When Illinois was knocking down triples, this didn’t work, but now that they’ve come back down to earth, it’s working great. Nnnanna Egwu isn’t exactly Tim Duncan down on the low block. Offensively, NU is playing pretty well too. McIntosh hit a couple of early threes, which helped, and NU has found a couple of nice post isolations and turned them into easy buckets. That’s where you have to hit Illinois. They very rarely play two forwards, so you’re going to have a guard who’s not used to playing down there. NU needs to keep going to that well. Whether or not NU pulls this one out is going to be dependent on two things. One, Illinois needs to shoot like they did for the second part of the 1st half, not the opening 5 minutes. Two, Tre Demps needs to wake up. I fully expect he will, because that’s how Tre Demps is. But the Wildcats need that extra scoring threat. It’ll be a good one in half two. Just 20 minutes at LTP left. /pours some out.
9:12–Back to back jams, and the I-L-L chants are back. NU lost to MSU because of second chance points and points of turnovers. If there’s anything Illinois is doing right now, it’s hitting the offensive boards and getting in the passing lanes.
9:26–Uh-oh. NU is down 10 at the under-12. At some point, the outside shots are going to have to start falling. And the Cats have to protect the offensive glass. And they need to stop penetration.
9:39–It’s happening again. That feeling of faintness. That quickening heart beat. The cardiac cats are back, this time they’re on the hardwood. Sobo is stretching the floor to the halfcourt line. The defense is a problem, though. Illinois is ripping NU up on the switches.
9:45–Sanjay subs in for Law in crunch time. I’d like Taphorn. Lumpkin doesn’t give you that much more defensively than Law.
9:47–Last 3:23 of the game to play. Cue the offense-defense subs. Illinois tried some kind of weird 3-2 zone last possession and NU shredded it. Let this be a lesson about trying to be cute in crunch time.
Well there’s not a whole lot to say. It was a decent game for Northwestern. Alex Olah had his best game in a long time, finishing with a smooth double-double. McIntosh added 16. Despite a 5/14 performance from the Cobb&Demps combo, Northwestern was only a possession or two away from grabbing a win. But let’s be honest, if you’ve made it this far in the article, you’re not reading to get a real breakdown of the game. This marks the end of the LTP era. There’s something strangely poetic about this being the last game we covered. A game where NU was right there, made some key mistakes, and ended up losing to an in-state rival. This was how it was supposed to end, I guess. A cocktail of missed opportunities and disappointment. Thus has been the theme for Northwestern athletics ever since the third quarter against Ohio State. Hope is there for the future. This team is young, there are some good recruits coming in. Let’s focus on that as this website fades away. Thanks to all of you for following/reading/commenting/being a part of this community. I wish we could’ve had a send off with a little more optimism. But it wasn’t written in the stars this time. Over and out. See you guys on the other side.