CHAMPAIGN, ILL. - Apparently Northwestern’s kryptonite wears orange.
After already being upset just a few weeks ago, the Northwestern Wildcats (20-8, 9-6 B1G) played a terrible second half once again against the Illinois Fighting Illini (16-12, 6-9) and were defeated 66-50 Tuesday night at the State Farm Center.
Malcolm Hill led the way for Illinois with 18 points and 5 rebounds, while Leron Black was solid as well, with 11 points and 8 rebounds. Just like in the first game, Maverick Morgan was huge down low, racking up 9 points and 10 rebounds.
For Northwestern, Bryant McIntosh had 16 points and 3 assists, but shot 6-17 from the field and 0-of-4 from three. Gavin Skelly was in double figures as well, scoring 11 points, while Dererk Pardon had 6 points and 12 rebounds.
The game didn’t start exactly as Northwestern had hoped. The Wildcats first possession ended in a shot clock violation and the second ended with a Vic Law offensive foul. Meanwhile, Leron Black was red hot for the Illini. The redshirt sophomore dropped 7 points in the first four minutes, outscoring the entire Northwestern team.
McIntosh managed to get Northwestern rolling a bit with an and-1 floater, but the team still struggled, shooting 2-of-8 from the field to start and trailing 8-5 early on.
Things did not get better after the first media timeout as Northwestern didn’t score for over three minutes, and Illinois used an extended 7-0 run to take a 13-5 lead and force a Chris Collins timeout.
Out of the timeout, Gavin Skelly finally broke the scoring drought with a three-pointer and Scottie Lindsey brought Northwestern within three on a pull-up jumper. Now it was Illinois’ turn to go cold, as the Illini went almost six minutes without hitting a field goal and allowed Northwestern to get right back in the game. The Wildcats weren’t fantastic either though, and despite Illinois only scoring 2 points over those six minutes, Northwestern only managed 9 and still trailed 15-14.
As soon as it looked like Northwestern would take the lead, Illinois scored 5 points in under 30 seconds, but this time the Wildcats were able to keep pace. At the under-8 timeout, Illinois only led 20-18.
McIntosh continued to put the team on his back as the first half progressed. He scored 5 straight points, including his second and-1, to bring the Wildcats within one, before Leron Black hit a jumper to keep it at three. A Isiah Brown layup and Skelly free throw finally brought the Wildcats even for the first time since 2-2, but two straight Illini buckets put them back up four.
In the final minute of the half, the two teams traded three-pointers before Brown hit a three-pointer to send the Wildcats into half only trailing 33-32.
The first four minutes of the second half were some of the most uneventful of the game, as Illinois won the stretch 2-0 while also missing six straight shots. Northwestern finally got on the board after 4:10 on a pair of Vic Law free throws, but still couldn’t take the lead. The teams traded buckets for a few possessions before Illinois managed to extend the lead to 42-38 on a Te’Jon Lucas free throw.
After cutting the lead to two on a Skelly dunk, a Maverick Morgan free throw and layup put Illinois back up five.
Then the wheels fell off.
Northwestern didn’t score for almost three minutes, and Illinois used a 7-1 run to take a 54-43 lead with only six minutes left in the game.
The drought didn’t end there, as Northwestern went 2-of-14 from the field during this stretch, including 8 straight misses. Illinois wasn’t terrific on the other end, they went 2-of-9 during the same stretch, but it’s not hard to go on a run when your opponent doesn’t score a single point.
A Malcolm Hill three-pointer with 3:03 left increased the Illinois lead to 16 and proved to be the final nail in the coffin.
Northwestern finally ended its scoring drought on a pair of Skelly free throws with 2:35 left, but it was far too little and far too late. Only hitting five shots in the second half would prove to be the Wildcats’ downfall as they fell to Illinois 66-50.