It wasn’t long after Illinois’ most lopsided loss ever on their home court that they banished the memory from their thoughts, players said.
In an otherwise dazzling stretch, the Illini were dazed in an 84-53 knockout delivered March 4 by Michigan.
“We’ve forgotten about that,” center Nnanna Egwu said. “We came in and watched the film and after that film session we were done.”
The Illini amnesia almost worked.
The Illini looked like a revamped team but fell short again, this time getting bounced by the Wolverines 64-63 in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinal.
A great-look shot by Tracy Abrams under the basket bounced off the front of the rim at the buzzer. The junior, who had scored 25 points to beat Indiana in the first round, stood in disbelief as his teammates comforted him.
After trailing by 13 points, Illinois took a 59-58 lead off a Rayvonte Rice bucket with 4:47 remaining and went up 63-62 on a layup by Rice.
Nik Stauskas found Jordan Morgan in the lane for a layup with 8 seconds remaining for the 64-63 lead.
After a timeout with 3.9 seconds remaining,
The Illini had used a 10-0 run to work back into the game after a slow start to the second half. They were fueled by their switch to zone defense to come up with stops against the Wolverines, who shot 52 percent in the first half.
Abrams finished with 11 points along with Rice. Kendrick Nunn added 10 points and Joseph Bertrand had his best game in 10 outings with nine points as the Illini shot 45 percent from the field.
Stauskas’ 19 points led Michigan.
No. 1 Michigan led 38-33 at halftime of the rematch in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinal, a much closer game than the meeting in Champaign when the Wolverines led 52-30 at the break.
The lead changed six times and Illinois briefly led before same late turnovers before the half.
The ninth-seeded Illini shot 48.3 percent in the first half, led by seven points from Kendrick Nunn. Joseph Bertrand, who was scoreless against Indiana on Thursday, added six points.
The Wolverines didn’t let up on offense, shooting 52 percent from the field and hitting 6 of 13 3-pointers.
Nik Stauskas, who scored 24 points in the first meeting, led at halftime with 12 points. Glenn Robinson III added 11 points.
Before the game, Illini fans would rather focus on the five victories out of the last six games than their prospects against Michigan.
The Illini (19-13) defeated No. 8 Indiana 64-54 Thursday in the first round at Bankers Life Arena.
Michigan (23-7) had a first-round bye.
While he did not dwell upon the regular season loss, Egwu said the game was an anomaly as the Wolverines shot 56.9 percent and hit 16 3-pointers.
“We made so many mistakes,” he said. “That wasn’t our defensive game. Whether we win or lose, what we have to show as a team is the type of defense we play here at Illinois. If teams see our defense we have a chance to win every single game.”
Illinois will try to continue to get production out of Tracy Abrams, who is coming off a season-high 25-point performance against the Hoosiers.
But their defense will be paramount.
“I take a lot of pride for playing for one of the best defensive teams in the country,” Egwu said.
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