The Illinois Fighting Illini stumbled through the first 12 minutes and 46 seconds of the first half in their match-up with the #15 Iowa Hawkeyes, and as a result they found themselves staring at a 21 point deficit with absolutely no momentum whatsoever. Then something magical happened.
On the strength of a 23-6 run over the final 7 minutes and 14 seconds of the first half, the Illini suddenly had life as they headed to the locker room trailing 40-36. It was improbable, and that’s what made it so great. With each possession, you could see the swagger come back in to the Illini offense, and it was quite the sight to behold after the offensive malaise that’s afflicted the Illini since the Wisconsin game.
The second half saw more of the same as the Illini truly lived up to the “Fighting” portion of their moniker. When the Illini finally took the lead 62-61 on a Tracy Abrams 3 pointer with 10:19 left in the second half the House of Paign erupted, and it seemed like it was just going to be Illinois’ night as the lead then ballooned out to 66-61. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
Iowa put together a quick 5 point run to tie it up at 66, capitalizing off a pair of Jon Ekey 3 point misses and a Rayvonte Rice turnover. However, Illinois answered that 5 point run with a 4 point run of their own, carving out to a 4 point lead on 4 Rayvonte Rice free throws over a 1 minute and 20 second span. This would be the last lead the Illini would have in this one though.
Iowa took that mini-jab from Illinois and answered with a 15-4 run to close out the game over the final 5 minutes and 2 seconds.
It was a valiant effort from an Illini team that could have rolled over very easily in the first half after digging such a large hole for themselves, but in the end the valiant effort is all they’ll have to show for it because their season long losing streak has now reached 7 games.
Undoubtedly, the biggest question that seems to be on the minds of every member of the fan base is Groce’s substitution patterns at the end of games. Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill each played a very good game, but they once again found themselves on the bench in winning time down the stretch. Nunn finished the game with 7 points, 4 assists, 1 rebound, and 1 excellent block in 13 minutes. Hill finished the game with 7 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal in 11 minutes.
Illinois was led in scoring by Joseph Bertrand’s 20 points. Rayvonte Rice chipped in 13 points and 9 rebounds. Tracy Abrams rounded out the double digit scorers with 11 points. Four of the five Illini starters logged 30 or more minutes of game action.
Iowa had 3 players in double figures as well. Roy Devyn Marble finished with 17 points. Backup Center Gabriel Olaseni had a game to remember with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Aaron White finished with 14 points.
The Illini return to action Tuesday night when they host the #14 Wisconsin Badgers in an 8 pm CST contest on the BTN.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @RPKraemer.