INDIANAPOLIS—It was too little too late for Illinois, which entered the Big Ten Tournament with the slimmest of hopes for an NCAA bid. But the Illini appeared to finally reach their potential—albeit in a hotly contested 64-63 loss to Michigan Friday in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Tracy Abrams had a good look on a runner in the lane to win the game at the buzzer, but it hit the front of the rim.
With less than two minutes left and Illinois winning 63-61, Michigan twice had second-chance scoring opportunities and missed. On the ensuring offensive possession Rayvonte Rice had a layup, but bumped into Maverick Morgan causing him to miss.
Nik Stauskas then hit the front end of a one-and-one to cut the Illini lead to one. But on the next Illinois possession Naana Egwu was late in setting a screen as the shot clock wound down, which forced Abrams to throw up an errant shot resulting in a shot clock violation.
Illinois had a timeout left but didn’t take it.
With about 19 seconds remaining on the clock Michigan called timeout and called a screen-and-roll to Jordan Morgan who hit the game-winning layup with eight seconds remaining on the clock. Once the Illini cross half court on the next possession, Illinois coach John Groce elected to call a timeout which set up the Abrams runner.
Abrams was saddled with foul trouble all game, which clearly hurt the Illini in their halfcourt offense.
Illinois’ junior point guard was whistled for two fouls in the first half, which forced Groce to play freshman Jaylon Tate more than usual at point guard.
With the Illini looking to go for a two-for-one to end the half, Tate committed a key turnover that resulted in a Michigan layup at the other end and a Wolverines chance to take the last shot. Then on the ensuing play Tate threw the ball away looking toward the post.
After heading into halftime up five due to the Tate turnovers, Michigan began the second half on a 9-3 run that extended the Wolverines’ lead to 11. But Illinois responded with a 10-0 run during which the Illini almost exclusively drove to the basket.
That tactic appeared to be successful throughout the remainder of the game.
Abrams and Rayvonted Rice led Illinois with 11 points each. Freshman Kendrick Nunn, who played his best in the first half, finished with 10. Stauskas led all scorers with 18.