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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern outlasted by #24 Illinois, 75-71

Close losses continue to burn Northwestern, who failed to break through in the final minutes once again.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern put forth an impressive effort in Champaign, but it wasn’t enough to pull off an upset of the 24th ranked Illini, who managed a 75-71 victory thanks to some big late buckets from Ayo Dosunmu. The loss is the Wildcats’ fifth defeat this season by five points or fewer.

Robbie Beran starred for NU, putting up a career-high 17 points and stretching the floor for the ‘Cats with three made shots from beyond the arc. Miller Kopp, Pat Spencer and Ryan Young all reached double digits to support the NU attack.

For Brad Underwood’s team, Trent Frazier led a balanced offense with 16 points. Kofi Cockburn and Giorgi Bezhanishvili combined for 25 points. Dosunmu poured in another 13 to round out Illinois’ largest scorers.

In a first half that breezed by, both teams went back and forth, scoring with surprising ease and pushing the tempo early. Northwestern edged out in front at the under-eight mark, utilizing efficient shot selection and some nice post play from Ryan Young and Pete Nance.

Going up against a tank in freshman Cockburn, it was always going to be a priority for Chris Collins to secure the interior on both ends of the floor, and the ‘Cats succeeded in doing that throughout the first half. Young and Nance weren’t prolific on the offensive end, but the duo (as well as Jared Jones) limited Cockburn and Bezhanishvili to 15 points and four rebounds.

The zone look that NU opted for allowed Illinois to knock down five three-pointers, but the ‘Cats were content affording those looks. They went into the break down five.

Robbie Beran came out of that break firing, however, and his two quick three-pointers brought Northwestern level with Illinois. The four-star recruit out of Richmond, Virginia, notched his career high in scoring with the initial three, and still 19 minutes remained in the contest.

It seemed as if every shot that went up in the first ten minutes of the second half would go in. From banked-in threes to a smooth pull up jumper from Jared Jones, both offenses were clicking. As the second half wore on, Illinois extended its lead to as many as nine as it continued to knock down shots and get Cockburn going in the post.

Despite the Fighting Illini maintaining its edge throughout the remainder of the half, NU refused to go away. Nearly every time it looked like Illinois was pulling away, the Wildcats — whether it was Spencer, Kopp, Beran or Young — would answer. The Illini twice took leads of nine points and the crowd got into it, yet Collins’ squad clawed its way back to trail by just three with 45 seconds left.

After Dosunmu nailed a jumper with 18.1 seconds left to put Illinois up five, Kopp responded with a clutch three to get NU within two. However, the Chicago native sunk two free throws to make it a two-possession game and secure the victory for the Illini.

Promising news came in prior to the game for the Wildcats, with Andy Katz reporting that Boo Buie, who is still out indefinitely with a stress fracture, was getting shots up pregame.

Next up, the Wildcats head back home to clash with #16 Maryland on Tuesday night.