The lack of a consistent perimeter shooter finally caught up with the Illinois Fighting Illini today as they endured a 50-49 second round NIT loss at the hands of the Clemson Tigers in a game that was clearly up for grabs from the opening tip.
The Illini shot an abysmal 3 of 21 from three point range (14.3%) today, yet time and again they settled for long range shots instead of attacking the basket. Clemson, meanwhile, made 2 of 11 three point attempts (18.2%), but once they realized the long balls weren’t falling they took their act inside the arc. The Tigers finished the game a robust 48.8% from the floor on 20 of 41 shooting.
Illinois had multiple chances down the stretch to extend the lead, but came up empty. Clemson managed to regain the lead with 9.3 seconds left when Rod Hall blew past Tracy Abrams on an aggressive take to the tin, but even then Illinois still had a chance to leave South Carolina with a victory.
Inexplicably, Clemson Head Coach Brad Brownell opted to call timeout to set up his defense, which in turn gave Illinois a chance to set up an offensive play even though they had no timeouts left. What came next, however, was not what any Illini fan wanted to see: a roughly 26 foot Tracy Abrams contested 3 point attempt. With the Illini struggling from distance all game long most fans expected to see an aggressive take to the rim, but it wasn’t meant to be on the final play.
Clemson was led in scoring by K.J. McDaniels 12 points which he scored on a highly efficient 5 of 7 from the floor.
Illinois was led in scoring by Rayvonte Rice’s 15 points.
When your leading scorers only manage to hit mid to low teens, you know that it was a defensive battle. Illinois managed to turn Clemson over 15 times to their 6, but they lost the battle on the glass 32-25. Clemson also blocked 9 Illini shot attempts on the afternoon.
Overall, it was a disappointing finish to a rocky season, but many fans took to twitter following the game with a very positive attitude about the direction the program is headed. With Aaron Cosby, Ahmad Starks, Darius Paul, LeRon Black, and Michael Finke all set to join the program it certainly does feel like much happier endings than today’s outcome are just around the corner.