ICYMI: Illinois vs. Indiana
Jan. 1, 2014
By Lexi Shurilla, fightingillini.com staff writer
Illinois 83, Indiana 80 (OT)
Last February, the No. 1 ranked Hoosiers were defeated in dramatic fashion in Champaign, with Tyler Griffey's uncontested layup as time expired giving the Illini a 74-72 win. This year, the rematch didn't disappoint with intensity at an all-time high for this year's Big Ten opener. The Fighting Illini needed overtime this year to come away victors in a New Year's Eve thriller, 80-83.
Illinois was ready to put on a show in front of a full house. The Illini returned to State Farm Center for the first time in three weeks after wrapping up non-conference action by playing five of its final six games away from home, most recently fighting back from a 13-point deficit to defeat UIC Saturday at the United Center in Chicago.
Tuesday's back-and-forth contest tallied a season-high 17 ties and 12 lead changes, including being tied at 39 at halftime, and ending regulation tied at 71 apiece. The game mirrored the all-time series with the Hoosiers, which is now knotted once against at 85 wins apiece. Illinois has now won five straight at home against Indiana, and 11 of the last 12 over the Hoosiers in Champaign.
"The biggest thing was just the communication," Illinois head coach John Groce said. "When you communicate like that, you're really connected and those five guys that were closing the game there have gotten used to playing together in that situation. We've been in that situation seven or eight times now.
"I thought it was a really aggressive game. Both teams were attacking, aggressive on the glass and in transition. I just thought it was really physical. I thought it was a high level game and it was a big time game."
The Illini held the Hoosiers to one field goal over the final 11:44. After Indiana's Kevin (Yogi) Ferrell hit a three with 6:44 remaining in the second half, IU did not make another basket until Ferrell connected on a three with four seconds remaining in overtime. Ferrell still managed to finish with 30 points as Indiana relied on their free throw shooting to keep the game up for grabs through the second half and overtime.
"No question our defense," junior Tracy Abrams said about what aided the win. "Tonight [Indiana] had one field goal with six minutes left, there's no question that our defense is pretty good and we locked in and focused."
"Coach emphasized that from the first day everybody got here on campus," junior transfer Rayvonte Rice said of Illinois' toughness. "Just being tough and making the extra ordinary play and giving the extra effort."
State Farm Center was screaming with excitement midway through the second half after junior transfer Rayvonte Rice capped an 11-2 Illini run with a three and then lay-up, giving Illinois a 63-61 lead with 7:43 left. Rice finished with 29 points to tie his career-high, following a 28-point performance on Saturday against UIC. Rice has proved his consistency is true, scoring in double figures in every game this season and currently leading the Big Ten in scoring at 19.0 ppg.
"First of all, my teammates put me in great position to score and Coach just called some plays for me and we got it executed," Rice said.
"He's a tough guy," Coach Groce said of Rice. "Obviously he does a lot of things from a skill set perspective and a production, statistic perspective, but I think his best quality is he's just a tough, tough guy. But he's not the only one that's like that. We've got a lot them and that makes it fun to coach. We're not really pretty all the time but we battle and fight and claw and scratch. So we've got some tough guys, and they're fun to coach."
Both teams had chances to score in the final 30 seconds but were unable to convert as the buzzer sounded for the end of regulation with the game tied at 71. Then late in overtime with Illinois up 78-75, Bertrand missed a free throw and Indiana reclaimed possession with the miss, Ekey hustled to snatch a steal, giving Illinois the ball back with 26.2 remaining.
The two teams exchanged a pair of free throws before Farrell made his last shot of the night to bring the Hoosiers within one 81-80 with 03.1 left. Finishing with a season-high 11-of-15 free throws, Rice was fouled with two seconds left in the game and buried the final two points of the contest, sealing the three-point win, 83-80.
"It's a great win and it just shows our younger guys that the Big Ten season is a grind," junior guard Tracy Abrams said, finishing with an efficient 8-of-12 from the field with 17 points. "You've got to take every game one game at a time, you can't look ahead. This just shows, the first Big Ten game and it's an overtime game. It just shows for our league."
Big Ten Atmosphere
"That was a heck of a basketball game," Coach Groce said. "That was a high level game. Both teams going at it, it was a total dog fight. Both teams [were] diving on the floor for loose balls, both teams going at it on the glass. I thought it was just a high level basketball game. If you were a fan today, we gave you five extra minutes to watch that."
In front of the first sellout crowd of 16,618 of the year at State Farm Center, the Illini forced a season-high 23 turnovers and had 12 steals to post a 25-11 advantage in points off turnovers against the Hoosiers. Illinois improved to 4-1 this season and 11-3 under Groce in games decided by five points or less.
"It was a great crowd for us," Tracy Abrams said. "You definitely can feed off the energy that the crowd gives and definitely appreciate the support the fans give to us. It makes a difference with the fans screaming, and gives guys that extra juice to go out there and want to make that extra play."
"Oh it was unbelievable, phenomenal," Groce said of the atmosphere. "Someone asked me, 'Hey, the students are gone, what do you think the crowd will be like?' And I said, that if I'm a fan watching our guys, I like to watch our guys play because they're so tough. Illini Nation will show up, they'll come out, and they did. They certainly made a big difference today."