5 painful observations from the Illinois basketball loss to Purdue

This was a golden opportunity for the Illinois basketball team to arrive on the national stage. That opportunity was squandered, though.

Mar 5, 2024; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Purdue Boilermakers head coach Matt Painter and Illinois
Mar 5, 2024; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Purdue Boilermakers head coach Matt Painter and Illinois / Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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Illinois basketball looked like the better team for much of the game, but Purdue ended up securing a big road win in the Big Ten.

The game was setting up so well for the Illini. The Boilermakers looked slow in the first half, and we were hitting shots. I thought this was a real chance for Illinois to notch a top-five victory and to launch into serious discussions about being a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Sadly, everything would fall apart in the second half. Purdue looked much better, and they eventually took the lead. A couple of big shots down the stretch put a dagger in the Illini, as we would fall to Purdue, 77-71.

Here are five painful observations from the Illinois basketball loss to Purdue

1. The Illini bench didn’t come through

To knock off the No. 3 team in the country, Illinois needed everyone to play well. Not only did we have a starter who didn’t look good, but the Illinois bench also didn’t show up to the game against Purdue.

Two specific players I am looking at from the bench who really had a rough game were Justin Harmon and Dain Dainja. Both veteran players were looked to for leadership, and both players came up short.

Harmon finished the game with zero points, three rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block on 0-of-3 shooting from the floor and 0-of-2 from three-point range. He also had three fouls and one turnover on the night.

Purdue has Zach Edey at center, so Illinois wasn’t going to get a ton of clean looks in the paint. That is why Harmon was needed on the perimeter. He would have helped space the floor, but his lack of point production hurt the Illini.

Illinois also needed Dainja at the No. 5 spot to make an impact. He played seven minutes in the game, and boy howdy, they were a rough seven minutes. Dainja had back-to-back turnovers that were killer. For the night, he had four points, one rebound, and one steal on 2-of-2 shooting from the floor. He also had two fouls and two turnovers.

I thought Luke Goode had a solid game with good effort, but we could have used more out of him. Amani Hansberry and Niccolo Moretti helped spell some minutes, but they didn’t produce much either.

Illinois’ bench finished a combined seven points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals, and one block on 3-of-8 shooting from the field and 1-of-5 from three-point range. They also had 11 fouls and three turnovers. The Illini needed more out of the bench, but they didn’t have it in them against Purdue.


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