09 January 2012

Illinois 57 NORTHWESTERN 56 (F)

It was not a surprise that Northwestern (12-4, 1-2) lost to Illinois (14-3, 3-1).  That NU lost in a closely contested DEFENSIVE struggle was.

The Welsh was packed, and the game looked promising for the Wildcats in the first half as NU extended to a 10 point lead with about 2 minutes to play.  The Illini scored two buckets to close out the half with some momentum despite trailing 36-31.  No big deal right?  Wrong.  NU came out and scored the first bucket of the second half, but the Illini went on a 11-0 run over the next few minutes to take a 4 point lead.  Over the next 5 minutes Illinois "outscored" NU 2-1 to extend to a 44-39 lead with 11 minutes to play.

The two teams exchange body blows with occasional baskets until the Illini built a 55-47 lead with less than 2 minutes to play.  NU made a furious comeback to knot the game at 56, but the Illini got to the line to make 1-2 free throws after a no-call on what could've been a game changing Drew Crawford attempt to draw a charge. Drew Crawford corralled the missed free throw attempt with 6 seconds left, dribbled the ball deep the length of the court and into the lane where his attempt to shoot over 7'1" Myers Leonard was swatted away as the clock expired.

This loss hurts.  To keep on track for the NCAAs NU must now steal one of the next three games (@Michigan, Michigan State, @Wisconsin), and NU will be a considerable underdog in each of these games.  It is always tough to win on the road so Michigan State may be NU's best shot at a win.  However next up is a trip to Ann Arbor on Wednesday where Drew Crawford did have a special game at Crisler two years ago so we got that going for us.  For their part Michigan (13-3, 3-1) is riding a wave of momentum after crushing Wisconsin 59-41 at Crisler.