I believe that Illinois could’ve won this game. I’m not sure if that makes me feel good about the future, or pissed off that we didn’t just go ahead and beat Oregon. Either way, what matters is that Illinois couldn’t hold on to a lead, and in the end Oregon got the win, 71-64.
Near the middle of the second half, Illinois was holding on to a nice lead. It wasn’t as grand as the lead that disappeared at Georgia Tech, but they still looked pretty menacing. Sadly, that lead also faded away, and with 3 minutes left Oregon took over. Illinois was still very involved in the hunt, until a layup from Elgin Cook with about a minute left put the Ducks up by 5 points.
Down by just 3 with 18 seconds to go, Illinois just couldn’t get it done. Then, a turnover late in the game enabled Oregon to make it look like Illinois never had a chance, as the lead increased to 7.
Tracy Abrams and Rayvonte Rice both led the team with 16 points. Jon Ekey was also in double digits with 10, and had 8 rebounds. Joseph Bertrand contributed 8 points and 2 steals. Though Oregon isn’t known for rebounding, they beat us in that column 30-27, which was probably one of the problems.
To be fair, no one really expected Illinois to win this game. But that’s the type of game you really want to win! Losing by 7 points to the #15 team in the country on the road isn’t embarrassing, and if that Georgia Tech loss hadn’t gone down a couple of weeks ago I wouldn’t be that disappointed today. It’s clear that we still have some learning to do, especially in the realm of holding on to a lead and also avoiding fouls.
On the plus side, Illinois was able to hold the #2 scoring team in the country to just 71 points. This is a team that usually scores anywhere from 82 to 115 points, so 71 is quite a feat. Especially since I barely count those last two points that our laziness and defeated attitude allowed Oregon to grab in the last few seconds. Illinois also had 10 steals, and Illinois attempted one more FT than Oregon.
As per usual, Nnanna Egwu was in foul trouble early, limiting what he could do. His replacement, Maverick Morgan, racked up 4 fouls after playing just 9 minutes. Though he may not be as tall, I feel like Austin Colbert may be a better choice to fill in for Egwu; he gets more points and less fouls, which is what we need.
In general, we didn’t get a lot from the freshman this game. It was really all about Rice (of course) and Abrams, which isn’t enough. Jaylon Tate looked more freshman-y than usual with 0 points, 2 turnovers and 2 assists. Overall the Illini shot 42%, compared to Oregon’s 55%.
There was a good span of the game where the Oregon couldn’t get past the Illini’s defense. We had at least some an affect on them, because they weren’t anywhere near 100 points. However, we couldn’t score, and so it didn’t really matter.
The Illini will have a week off before they head to St. Louis (and I’ll be right behind them) to face Missouri in the Braggin’ Rights game. I strongly believe that we could be heading to this game 11-0, but perhaps being 9-2 will light another fire under their butts. It worked before, because after losing at Georgia Tech the Illini came back with one of their best games of the year against Auburn.
As of now, Missouri is ranked, so it gives the Illni an opportunity to take on another ranked team before entering conference play. I’m not going to say it’s a must-win situation or anything, but it would really help out in terms of momentum, and getting the season headed in the right direction.
The Illini will play Mizzou on Saturday, Dec. 21 at 430pm.