Illinois show true face in ugly loss to Northwestern

Illinois’ loss to Northwestern on Sunday was as brutal as they come.

The Wildcats played without starting point guard Dave Sobolewski, shot 37.2 percent from the floor, turned the ball over four times in the last 1:34 and scored just 49 points, but still came out victorious against the Illini.

Illinois could only muster 43 points against a Northwestern squad that had yet to win a Big Ten game before Sunday. The Wildcats lost by an average margin of 25.3 points in its first three conference games, proving how dreadful Northwestern was before Illinois came to Evanston.

The last minute or so of the game was the first time Illinois showed any life. Rayvonte Rice’s 3-pointer with 18 seconds left brought the Illini within two, but Drew Crawford would calmly ice the game with four free throws.

No one stepped up for Illinois in this one. Illinois head coach John Groce said Tracy Abrams, Joseph Bertrand and Kendrick Nunn were the only aggressive players on the team. Abrams was the only double-digit scorer for the Illini at 13 points, but even he shot just 6-for-15 from the field and missed numerous close attempts at the basket. Every other Illini player was still recovering from the beating Illinois suffered against Wisconsin in a 95-70 loss on Wednesday. Illinois scored just 25 points in the first half in Madison and came out the gate in a similar fashion Sunday.

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Illinois shot an abysmal 19.4 percent in one of the ugliest first halves in school history. Making the low point total even worse was the first-half total of two assists. Abrams led Illinois with six first half points and had half of the teams field goals (three). No other player even cracked three points in the first half for Illinois.

Illinois was never able to get the lead back after the opening minutes. The Illini would tie the game two times in the second half, both on Kendrick Nunn field goals, but Northwestern’s Tre Demps closed the door on an Illinois comeback win quickly.

Demps, who entered the game shooting 33.9 percent from behind the arc, drained three 3-pointers in a three-minute span, going on a personal 9-2 run. Illinois trailed 43-36 at that point and was never able to recollect itself.

What has happened to the No. 23 ranked Illinois squad from the first 15 games of the season? Illinois was sitting pretty with a 13-2 record with the only losses coming in road games against solid programs (Oregon was technically neutral, but there weren’t many Orange and Blue fans in Portland). Getting throttled on the road against No. 4 Wisconsin was expected, but this loss against a now 9-8 Northwestern squad was a complete surprise.

This one will hurt even more come March. A loss to Northwestern is going to stick out like an eyesore in Illinois’ now underwhelming NCAA tournament resume. Two of Illinois’ other defeats, against Georgia Tech and Oregon, are looking worse as the season progresses as the Yellow Jackets are just 10-6 and the Ducks have lost three straight games. Illinois’ best two wins to date, against Missouri and Indiana, also lack serious punch with the Tigers losing to an awful Georgia squad and Indiana barely squeaking past Penn State.

The Groce era has started with two consecutive misleading seasons. Illinois won its first 10 games last season before ending just 13-13. Illinois began this season 7-0 and even achieved a No. 23 ranking, but has now lost consecutive games in an ugly fashion.

The ride was fun while it lasted, but Illinois showed its true face on Sunday.

Michael is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @The_MDubb.