By Greg Mroz
Champaign, Ill – As with most things in life, nothing lasts forever. With the case of the Northwestern men’s basketball team, the way they had been playing over the past two weeks, it looked as if they would be able to keep their winning streak alive for the foreseeable future. Yet the four game winning streak that got Northwestern back to 500 overall came to an end with a loud thud Saturday night
Rayvonte Rice lead all scorers with 19 points on 5 of 9 shooting as the Illinois Fighting Illini (18-11, 8-8) ended the longest conference winning streak in 48 years for Northwestern (14-15, 5-11) with a 86-60 victory at State Farm Center.
“Tonight our execution matched our effort” Illinois head coach John Groce said. “Most importantly tonight we played well and I just want to build on that”
The Illini were efficient all game offensively, having four of five starters score in double figures, and shooting 14 of 29 from three point range. Illinois in the first half, like Indiana on Wednesday was hot from beyond the arch against the Wildcats. The Illini made their first four three pointers and finished the half 9 for 16. Malcolm Hill went 3 for 5 from deep in the first half and finished with 15 points on 4 of 7 from three point range. Ahmad Starks was the second leading scorer with 17 points on 6 of 11 shooting with two three pointers.
“We were really hitting on all cylinders, the ball was moving, and we were getting great looks” Illini senior guard Ahmad Starks said.
The Illini made their first four shot attempts, all three to open up an early 12-2 lead. Northwestern would respond with a 7-0 run triggered by baskets from Alex Olah, Tre Demps, and Bryant McIntosh that made it 12-9. It was at that point where the tide turned permanently in favor of the Illini.
From that point, the Wildcats didn’t make another field goal for another 10 minutes and 25 seconds. The only points Northwestern got in that stretch were three free throws from Vic Law that made it 19-12. An 11-0 run that included two threes from Malcolm Hill made it 30-12 Illinois with six minutes left in the first half, and proved to be too big of a deficit to overcome.
“We have been a lot sharper and a lot of that goes to their defense.” Northwestern head coach Chris Collins said. “I just think we were a step slower tonight. “
Alex Olah lead the Wildcats with 18 points on 7 of 10 shooting while Bryant McIntosh added 13 on 5 of 11 from the floor. Northwestern, who had been on point from long range in recent games, was only 5 of 20 from beyond the arch.
The Wildcats started the 2nd half with a mini push, starting with a 6-1 run to cut the deficit to 46-29. Yet that’s the closest the Wildcats would get, as Illinois continued to make it rain from the outside. For the game, Illinois shot 48.3 percent from three point range, and had four of five starters finish with at least two made three pointers. Despite the fatigue from the Wildcats, Collins won’t take anything away from the effort of the Illini.
“I thought Illinois was really good, and we weren’t at our best.” Collins said. “They were just firing on all cylinders tonight.“