Brandon Paul led the Illini with 18 points against the New Zealand National Team.
Aug. 16, 2011
Forli, Italy -
Illinois fell to the New Zealand National Team in overtime by the score of 85-84 Tuesday night in the second game of its Italy Tour. In an extremely competitive contest featuring 22 lead changes and 13 ties, New Zealand eventually prevailed after scoring on an offensive rebound with 2.8 seconds left in OT. Prior to the game-winning putback, Brandon Paul had put the Illini in position to claim victory when he made a driving bank shot in traffic with 9.7 seconds remaining. Paul's basket capped a rally that brought the Illini back from a 4-point deficit with less than two minutes remaining.
The Illini made a similar comeback at the end of regulation. Trailing 73-69 with 45 seconds left, Illinois forced the extra period after scoring on each of its last two possessions and harassing its opponent into a pair of turnovers. Sam Maniscalco hit two free throws with :28 left to bring the Illini within two, then the UI defense forced a 5-second call on New Zealand's inbounds pass to regain possession.
Paul drove to the basket and drew a foul, making both free throws to tie it at 73 with 18 seconds left.
New Zealand tried to play for the last shot and the win, but Meyers Leonard made an outstanding defensive play and earned a steal just before time expired.
While play was erratic at times - the teams combined for 49 turnovers and 40 percent shooting - the intensity and physical play was more reminiscent of a postseason showdown in March than an exhibition game in August. And the competitiveness the Illini showed in making a number of comebacks down the stretch pleased Coach Bruce Weber and was just the type of challenge he expected his team would face against New Zealand's national team, which will face Australia in September for 2012 Olympic qualifying.
Illinois continued to substitute players in waves and apply constant defensive pressure. That resulted in the Fighting Illini accumulating 21 steals and forcing 29 New Zealand turnovers. Those turnovers helped to offset New Zealand's 52-39 advantage on the boards.
Paul led the Illini with 18 points. He hit just four field goals but made his way to the free throw line repeatedly, connecting on 9-of-13 from the stripe. Paul also had team highs of four steals and three assists while adding three rebounds. Maniscalco shot 5-of-8 from the field and tallied 14 points, while Tyler Griffey also reached double figures, adding 13 points.
Tracy Abrams had nine points, Leonard totaled seven, and Joseph Bertrand and Crandall Head added six apiece. Rounding out the scoring, Nnanna Egwu had five, Mike Shaw scored four, and Myke Henry added two.
Egwu and Abrams led the Illini in rebounding, grabbing five boards apiece. Maniscalco, Griffey, Shaw, Head and Bertrand added four rebounds each.
Illinois will visit the Aviano Air Base near Venice on Wednesday, where they will team up with West Virginia to hold a joint clinic for children of the troops and take turns scrimmaging against select military personnel. The visit will conclude with the Illini and Mountaineers facing each other in an exhibition scrimmage consisting of two 10-minute halves.