Illinois men’s basketball falls 73-60 to Northwestern in third-straight Big Ten defeat

Guard%2FForward+Matthew+Myer+pushes+through+Northwestern+on+Wednesday.%0AThe+Illini+begin+the+2023+year+on+a+disappointing+60-73+loss+to+Northwestern+on+Jan.+4.++

Photo courtesy of Courtney Bay/Illini Athletics

Guard/Forward Matthew Myer pushes through Northwestern on Wednesday. The Illini begin the 2023 year on a disappointing 60-73 loss to Northwestern on Jan. 4.

By James Kim, Assistant Sports Editor

In its first game of 2023, Illinois men’s basketball dropped the ball against Northwestern by a 73-60 score in Evanston for its third straight Big Ten defeat. The loss ended the Illini’s eight-game winning streak against the Wildcats.

Head coach Brad Underwood made no changes to the starting five that took down Bethune-Cookman last week. The lineup consisted of senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr., freshman guard Sencire Harris, fifth-year forward Matthew Mayer, junior forward Coleman Hawkins and redshirt sophomore forward Dain Dainja.

The game started off very slow for Illinois as Harris quickly picked up two consecutive fouls in the first minute of play. The Wildcats got going on a 6-0 run as the Illini gave the ball away and continued committing fouls. After opening 0-3 from the field, it was Dainja who slammed home Illinois’ first points of the game with 16:19 remaining in the first period.

Mayer hit a big three-pointer soon after, cutting the deficit to 6-5 in favor of the Wildcats. However, a three from Northwestern’s Chase Audige halted any additional momentum for Illinois. Soon after, neither team scored for nearly three straight minutes.

Freshman guard Jayden Epps managed to break the drought with a make from beyond the arc. Moments later, a jumper from Dainja gave the Illini their first lead of the night at 10-9.

The game remained tight over the next few minutes with multiple lead changes. However, the Wildcats were given a cushion as Shannon committed a flagrant foul. Audige hit both free throws and hit a jumper right after, giving Northwestern a four-point possession. The Wildcats kickstarted a 7-0 run with their newfound momentum.

The Illini suffered a 2:48 scoring drought before Epps made two straight attempts from the field. Hawkins quickly added a big three-point make, cutting the score to 24-23 in favor of the Wildcats. After Barnhizer shot 1-2 from the line, sophomore guard RJ Melendez tied it up at 25-25.

Northwestern went on to enjoy a 6-0 run before Mayer responded with a one-handed floater to close out the half. Illinois trailed 31-27 at the break.

The Illini came out firing early in the second half. Dainja opened the second period with a one-handed slam off the quick assist from Shannon. Shannon continued to contribute, hitting a big three-point shot to bring the Illini within one. Mayer re-gained the lead for Illinois after scoring a jumper, and followed it up with a three-point make. These quick baskets led to an early 8-0 run for the Illini, giving them a four-point advantage.

Northwestern cut Illinois’ lead to one after three free throw makes before Shannon responded with another three pointer.

The Wildcats regained the lead a few minutes later after a three by Barnhizer. Another three from Berry completed a 9-0 run as the Illini entered another extended scoring drought.

The scoring continued to favor the Wildcats, with the previous run turning into a 20-2 scoring run. Freshman guard Skyy Clark ended the Illini’s drought with a layup before Mayer added two free throws to the score.

Illinois struggled to make it within ten points of its rival after committing foul after foul. Hawkins eventually brought the visitors back within eight but the Wildcats were able maintain their lead during the final three minutes and close out the game 73-60.

Illinois is now 9-5 overall and a poor 0-3 in the Big Ten. The search for a first conference win continues, and the Illini will be back in action on Saturday to welcome No. 14 Wisconsin to Champaign.

 

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