The Illini came out in the second half on a mission, using a 15-5 run to climb right back into the game, and with 11:41 left in the half found themselves tied at 47 all with possession of the basketball out of the under 12 timeout. At this point, it was clear this game was going to be a battle all the way to the end.
With 10 minutes left, the game was tied at 49. At 8 minutes left, it was 51. Then, just like that, the wheels began to fall off for Illinois.
UNLV hit a shot, Illinois missed a couple of attempts including an Egwu airball. UNLV made another interior basket, Illinois turned it over on a poor entry feed and then Rice committed a foul that resulted in 2 free throws and a 6 point Rebel lead. Things were definitely looking bleak, but then an unthinkable deep threat emerged and suddenly the Illini were right back in it.
Down six with just under six minutes to play, Nnanna Egwu drained his second 3 of the game cutting the Rebel lead in half at 57-54. The two teams traded baskets, and the Illini found themselves trailing 59-56 with 2:38 to play and UNLV heading to the line, but the Rebels missed the front end and Illinois secured the rebound. On the ensuing possession, Ekey finally hit his first 3 point basket of the game to tie the score at 59 after missing his first 5 shot attempts.
With 27.9 left, Rayvonte Rice curled off a ball screen and knifed his way through the interior of the Rebel defense to knock down a clutch layup to give the Illini a 61-59 lead.
Surprisingly, UNLV burned a ton of clock instead of attacking and Coach Rice was forced to burn his final timeout with 12.7 left. They came out of the timeout and held the ball again, finally settling for a Kevin Olekaibe corner 3 point attempt that went off the front of the iron. Nnanna Egwu secured the rebound with .5 left, and it was all over but the shouting as the Illini won their first road game of the season improving to 6-0 on the year.
Rayvonte Rice led the way for Illinois with a season high 25 points, and added in 10 rebounds, and 4 steals for good measure.
Illinois returns to action Friday at 7 pm at the State Farm Center taking on IPFW. The game can be seen on ESPN3.