Illini can’t overcome Redhawks at home

By Jason Grodsky

The Illinois basketball team was pushed to the brink by Ron Zook’s alma mater on Thursday night in Champaign.

For the second time this season the Illini were taken to overtime, this time by the Redhawks of Miami University in Ohio.

Illinois scored the final seven points in regulation to force overtime, but couldn’t muster enough offense down the stretch, making only two field goals in overtime to fall 61-58. The loss was only the eighth home loss for Illinois in its last 118 home games.

“We knew we were in for a gut check coming in,” head coach Bruce Weber said. “They are a very good team and we just didn’t finish.”

Miami trailed 36-30 midway through the second half, but went on a 22-9 run to take a lead 52-45 with under two minutes left. They were beaten by the Illini 51-49 in the Chicago Invitational last season on a game winning shot by Illini guard Chester Frazier in the waning seconds

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The Illini wouldn’t go quietly.

A traditional three-point play by senior forward Shaun Pruitt and a lay up by fellow senior Brian Randle would close the cap to 52-50 with 49.1 seconds. After a missed free throw by Miami, Randle would bring the Illini to its feet again with a putback lay up off Pruitt’s miss to tie the game at 52-52.

Frazier would force Miami’s Kenny Hayes to throw up a contested shot in the final seconds that would bounce off the rim, sending the game to overtime.

Trailing 61-58 Illinois had a chance to force a second overtime with 1.8 seconds left, but freshman forward Mike Tisdale’s three-point shot from the top of the key fell short.

“We made a good push at the end of regulation, but we have to find a way to win these close games,” Randle said. “This game, the Arizona game and Maryland game are all games we could’ve won, but we didn’t finish, and we have to find a way to do that.”

Miami took away the Illini’s scoring threat from the outside all game long by holding Illinois junior guard Trent Meacham and the rest of the Illini guards in check throughout the night.

Illinois shot just 35.1 percent from the field and 13.3 percent from beyond the arc, knocking down only two of its 15 three-point shots. In contrast, Miami shot 44.4 percent from the field.

“They are a good defensive team and did a good job of shutting down our shooters,” Pruitt said. “They made our guys take tough shots.”

With Illinois’ guards neutralized, the Illini were forced to rely on its play inside to try and rally past the Redhawks.

The result was Pruitt tying his career high with 24 points.

Miami keyed in on Pruitt, at times triple-teaming the big man in the low post. The Aurora, Ill. native took on the challenge and finished the game with 15 of Illinois’ 41 rebounds, seven of which were offensive.

“I’m upset about this game but I can’t pout about it and we have to re-focus for Missouri,” Pruitt said.