NIT Second Round Notes: Illinois at Clemson
March 21, 2014
Series Notes vs. Clemson
Fighting Illini Continue NIT Run
Illinois is participating in postseason play for the 13th time in the last 15 seasons, 19th in the last 22, and 30th in the last 35 dating back to its first NIT appearance in 1980.
Notes from the NIT First-Round Victory at Boston U. (March 19) // Highlights | Recap | Box Score | Notes | Photos
2. Illinois came back from a 17-point deficit to win (30-13 at 5:23 mark of first half), marking the biggest Illini comeback under Groce and the largest since overcoming a 23-point deficit at Clemson on Dec. 2, 2009.
3. Illinois now has five victories this season where it overcame double-digit deficits (10-at UNLV, 11-IPFW, 13-vs. UIC, 11-at Minnesota, 17-at Boston U.), and nine overall under Groce. Six of those nine have come on the road.
4. Illinois has now won four consecutive road games dating back to a 62-49 win at Minnesota on Feb. 19. It marks the longest road winning streak for the Illini since a 14-game streak spanning the 2003-04 (last six road games) and 2004-05 (first eight road games) seasons.
5. Illinois has now limited its opponent to 65 points or less in 19 of its 20 wins this season, and 26 of its last 27 wins dating back to Feb. 10 of last year. The 83-80 win over Indiana on Dec. 31 is the only Illini victory over that span where the opponent topped 65 points.
6. Illinois shot 50 percent from the field (23-of-46), its highest percentage since shooting 52 percent against Dartmouth on Dec. 10. Boston shot 42.6 percent, as the Illini improved to 8-1 this season when shooting better than 45 percent from the field and 14-1 on the season when out-shooting their opponent.
7. The Illini closed the game on a 12-1 run over the final four minutes. After trailing 61-54 with 4:11 left, Tracy Abrams started it with a 3-pointer at the 3:50 mark. Rayvonte Rice later came up with the play of the game, going coast-to-coast after a steal for a layup and-one to cut the deficit to one. After four more points from Rice (two free throws and a layup), Nnanna Egwu sealed the win with a pair of free throws with 10.5 seconds left. The Illinois defense held the Terriers to 0-of-4 shooting and forced two turnovers in the final four minutes.
8. Rayvonte Rice dominated the game, scoring 28 points (one shy of matching his career-high) and pulling down eight rebounds. His 28 points equaled the record by an Illini player in the NIT, first set by Perry Range vs. Long Island in 1982. Rice hit 11-of-14 from the field (.786). The 11 made field goals surpassed his previous career-high of 10 against UIC (Dec. 28), and were the most by Illini since Brandon Paul made 11 baskets against Ohio State on Jan. 10, 2012.
9. Malcolm Hill also had a big game, scoring 10 points (one shy of his career-high) and pulling down a career-high eight rebounds in 20 minutes.
Illini NIT Notes
The Illini own a record of 8-4 all-time in the NIT.
Sunday marks the third time that Illinois will play a road game in the NIT. Illinois owns an all-time NIT record of 5-3 at home, 2-0 on the road, and 1-1 at Madison Square Garden.
While John Groce is making his first appearance in the NIT as a head coach, Groce was part of five NIT teams as an assistant. Ohio State won the 2008 NIT championship while Groce was in his final season as associate head coach on Thad Matta's Buckeyes staff. Groce also served as an assistant on Herb Sendek's North Carolina State staff when the Wolfpack made four straight NIT appearances from 1997-2000, highlighted by a runner-up finish in 2000.
Prior to Wednesday's contest at Boston, the Illinois roster consisted of three players who had experienced the NIT, but none while representing the Illini. Joseph Bertrand was sitting out the season as a true freshman redshirt when Illinois made its last NIT appearance in 2010. Jon Ekey started two games in the 2012 NIT during his sophomore season at Illinois State. Ekey had 15 points, one rebound and five assists in a first-round win at Ole Miss, followed by nine points, 10 rebounds and two steals in a second-round loss at Stanford. Aaron Cosby also played in two games in the 2012 NIT during his freshman season at Seton Hall. Cosby is sitting out as a transfer and is ineligible to travel with the Illini this season.
Illini Individual Single-Game Highs in the NIT
Illini Team Single-Game Highs in the NIT
Illinois' all-time NIT box scores can be found on p. 19-21 here.
Another 20-Win Season for the Illini
Standing Out in the Postseason
Tracy Abrams is averaging 13.7 points (41) and 5.7 rebounds (17) and has a 2.5 assist/turnover ratio (10/4).
Malcolm Hill is averaging 8.7 points (26) and shooting 61.5 percent the field (8-13) and perfect 5-of-5 on threes.
Jon Ekey is shooting 45.5 percent from 3-point range (5-11).
Nnanna Egwu is averaging 3.3 offensive rebounds (10).
The Illini are shooting 45 percent from the field (67-149), 38.8 percent from 3-point range (19-49) and 81.6 percent on free throws (40-49). Those are significant improvements over Illinois' season averages of 41.2 percent from the field, 32.3 percent from three and 73.2 percent from the line.
Illinois owns a rebounding margin of +5.3.
Illinois ranks 18th nationally in Ken Pomeroy's defensive efficiency (94.2).
In its last eight wins, Illini opponents have averaged just 54.1 points (433).
Illinois has made at least six 3-pointers in each of its last eight victories, averaging 7.5 made threes per game in those eight wins (60).
In its last six wins, the Illini have made 43.4 percent from 3-point land (46-106).
Illinois has a combined record of 10-8 this season in road (6-6) and neutral (4-2) games. This is the second straight year the Illini have been above .500 in that category after going 11-9 in road/neutral games last season.
Illinois' winning percentage of .556 in road/neutral games is its best in five years, since posting a .588 win percentage in road/neutral games in 2009 (10-7).
Illinois carries a four-game road winning streak and has won five of its last six on the road. The Illini have now won six road games on the season, most for the program since winning seven road games in 2010.
The Illini are 7-2 on the season in games decided by five points or less, and 14-4 overall under Coach John Groce. The 64-63 defeat to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament marked the UI's lone loss by one or two points in Groce's UI tenure (now 8-1).
Illinois is 9-2 this season and 23-4 overall under Groce when reaching the 70-point marker.
Illinois has either led or been tied with seven minutes or less in seven of its losses.
Illinois won four of its last five regular-season games. It marked the first time in eight years that the Illini ended Big Ten play by winning four of its last five (2006).
Three of those four wins came on the road, as Illinois won its last three road games of the Big Ten season for the first time in 10 years, since the 2004 UI squad won its final six away from home.
With victories at No. 18 Michigan State (March 1) and No. 24 Iowa (March 8), the Illini recorded consecutive road wins over ranked opponents for the first time in nine years, since the No. 1 Illini won at No. 18 Wisconsin (Jan. 25, 2005) and No. 12 Michigan State (Feb. 1, 2005).
Illinois won four road games and three home games during Big Ten play. This is the first time since 1999 that the Illini recorded more road wins than home wins in conference action.
Prior to the Michigan game on March 4, Illinois' defense held four straight opponents to less than 50 points. It marked the first time since the 1947 Big Ten season that the Illini held four consecutive league foes below 50 points (Jan. 6-25, 1947).
Over that four-game stretch (Feb. 15-March 1), Illini opponents averaged just 48.0 points.
Illini Player Trends
Joseph Bertrand has averaged 9.0 points (18) on 53.8 percent shooting (7-13) over the last two games.
Jon Ekey is averaging 7.3 points (29) and shooting 53.3 percent from 3-point range (8-15) over the last four games.
Kendrick Nunn is averaging 10.8 points (119) over his last 11 games in the starting lineup. He has scored in double figures seven times as a starter, including six of the last eight games. Malcolm Hill has made nine of has last 13 three-point attempts (69.2 percent) over the last seven games.
Nnanna Egwu is the Big Ten's No. 2 shot blocker (53rd in NCAA), averaging 2.1 bpg. His season total of 73 blocks currently ranks second on the Illini all-time single-season list. Egwu now ranks fifth on the UI career blocks list with 141.
Egwu leads the Big Ten in offensive rebounding (2.6 rpg). He has totaled 15 over the last four games.
Tracy Abrams has averaged 5.5 rebounds over the last four games (22).
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the comeback was how quickly it happened. The Illini still trailed 60-41 with 14:35 left. But over the next 5:48, the Orange and Blue went on a 22-to-1 run to take a 63-61 lead with 8:47 remaining.
There were two ties and four lead changes down the stretch. Mike Tisdale hit a driving layup to put the Illini up 75-74 with 41 seconds left. Tisdale then blocked a shot on the defensive end and Brandon Paul hit one free throw with :8.4 remaining to make it a 2-point lead. Demontez Stitt missed a runner on Clemson's final possession.
The previous largest margin for an Illini comeback was 21 points against Seton Hall on Dec. 9, 2000.
Five Facts on the Following Illini