EVANSTON, Illinois — After leading by 15 at the half, Northwestern (6-4, 3-3 B1G) was obliterated 81-56 by Illinois (9-3, 5-1 B1G) on Thursday night on account of the Fighting Illini’s stellar second-half performance.
The Wildcats dropped their third straight contest against a ranked Big Ten opponent after following their 51.6% first-half shooting percentage with a putrid 8.3% mark in the second.
Multiple Wildcats had great first-half performances before falling apart in the final 20 minutes. Robbie Beran led the way with 11 points while Ryan Young and Pete Nance added nine each.
The Illini stole the show in the end. Kofi Cockburn dominated inside, finishing with 18 points and 12 boards. Ayo Dosunmu added 15, short of his 23 points per game average, while Trent Frazier and Adam Miller posted 14 each.
The ‘Cats started off slow, hitting only one of their first six shots from the field. Shortly after the under-16 minute break at which the Wildcats trailed 12-6, Miller Kopp converted on back-to-back Northwestern possessions, getting his team back into the game.
From there, Kopp began to receive some help, particularly big men Beran and Young, as well as Anthony Gaines. Gaines and Young hit all six of their combined attempts in the first half including two three-point attempts, while Beran added four assists and six points of his own.
Illinois, typically an offensive juggernaut, struggled to put together comprehensive offensive possessions in the first half. Star guard Ayo Dosunmu only hit one of his three attempts from the field while turning it over twice before being benched for the remainder of the half after committing his second personal foul with 9:21 remaining.
The Illini’s offensive woes allowed the ‘Cats to go on a 12-0 run late in the half behind surges from Gaines, Young and Ty Berry, which extended their lead to 16 before a free throw from Giorgi Bezhanishvili brought the score to 43-28 at the break.
The 12th-ranked Illini stormed out of the gates in the second half, scoring eight unanswered in the first minute-and-a-half and prompting Chris Collins to call a timeout. On the ensuing possession, Nance drew a foul on a drive to the rim and hit both free throws, giving the ‘Cats their first points of the half.
The Illini heated up, and the ‘Cats did not hit a single field goal in the first six minutes. Their first and only make of the half’s first 12-and-a-half minutes came on a three from Beran, which brought the score to 48-41 before the Illini, fueled by dominant play from Cockburn, spouted off another 12-0 run to take a 53-48 lead with 11:16 to play. Illinois outscored the Wildcats by 20 in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
Northwestern’s pathetic second-half shooting performance just got worse, allowing Illinois to continually increase its lead. Dosunmu started to heat up, and the Illini extended their lead to as much as 25. The Wildcats were outscored by 40 in the second half.
Northwestern will travel to Columbus for a rematch with the Buckeyes (8-3, 2-3 B1G) on Wednesday at 6 p.m. CST.