Illini fall short to Badgers, ending shot at NCAA Tournament bid

By Jason Grodsky

INDIANAPOLIS – Illinois’ run at a ninth consecutive NCAA Tournament berth fell short on Sunday.

Needing to win the Big Ten Tournament to receive the conference’s automatic bid to the “Big Dance,” the 10th-seeded Illini were unable to finish off their incredible run to the tournament’s title game, falling 61-48 to top-seed Wisconsin in Indianapolis.

The last time the Illini missed the tournament was in 1999 after a similar Big Ten Tournament run that saw the team make the championship game as the 11-seed before losing to top-seed Michigan State 67-50 in the final.

The No. 8-ranked Badgers claimed both the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles with their title game victory over the Illini. The loss gave Illinois its 19th of the season, the program’s most losses ever in a season.

It was the third time this year Wisconsin (29-4) has beat Illinois (16-19). This time the Badgers did it with defense and precise outside shooting, holding Illinois to 40.4 percent shooting from the field while knocking down nine three pointers to claim their second tournament title in the program’s history.

Senior forward Shaun Pruitt led the Illini with a game-high 13 points and eight rebounds, earning a spot on the Big Ten’s All-Tournament Team. Also earning a spot on the All-Tournament Team was freshman Demetri McCamey, who scored five points in the tournament final and averaged 10 points per game in his first conference tournament.

Junior guard Calvin Brock provided the spark off the bench for the Orange and Blue, scoring 10 points and grabbing five rebounds against Wisconsin.

Wisconsin junior Marcus Landry was named the tournament’s MVP, scoring 10 points in Sunday’s title game. Badgers’ senior Brian Butch also added 12 points while Michael Flowers added nine and was Wisconsin’s other All-Tournament Team selection. Michigan State’s Drew Neitzel was the final member of All-Tournament Team.

Playing in their fourth game in as many days, Illinois couldn’t get over the hump against the Badgers, never leading after Wisconsin took a 13-10 lead midway through the first half. Wisconsin pulled away from the Illini with a 19-8 run that started at the end of the first half and continued to the beginning of the second half, giving them a 41-28 lead.

Illinois’ three previous games against Penn State, Purdue and Minnesota took a toll on them heading into Sunday. The player’s fatigue greatly affected the Illini’s outside shooting causing them to leave most of their perimeter shots short, making just 3-of-13 shots from behind the arc.

Despite the loss the Illini could still be playing basketball come next week if they receive a bid to the postseason National Invitational Tournament (NIT) or the inaugural College Basketball Invitational (CBI).

Check back with DailyIllini.com for more on Sunday’s title game and the Illini’s reaction to tournament selections.