Illini wheelchair basketball teams each finish weekend tournament 2-1


Illinois’ Nik Goncin goes for a contested shot during the game against Missouri at the ARC on Friday. The Illini won 53-46 and went 2-1 on the weekend.

By Lucas Wright

The Illinois men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball teams each finished 2-1 during its home tournament this weekend at the ARC.

The Illini men opened up the tournament Friday with a favorable matchup against Edinboro. Illinois took a 29-16 lead at the half and never looked back. The team finished off the Fighting Scots en route to a 44-36 win.

The big matchup Friday featured the Illini men’s team taking on Missouri, when Illinois and the Tigers both got off to a slow start. The Illini were plagued with foul trouble and had to sit senior Nik Goncin, a key contributor, throughout most of the first half. Sophomore Ryan Neiswender stepped up and added 10 points in the half to give them a 21-20 lead at halftime.

Illinois was still shaky throughout the beginning of the second half, but the Illini hit their stride when Goncin got going around the 10-minute mark. Goncin scored 16 of the team’s 32 second-half points, to lead it to a 53-46 victory over the rival Tigers.

“When (Goncin’s) hitting, he’s a really great leader out there and pushes the team,” coach Matt Buchi said.

The Saturday slate featured the Illini women facing off against Wisconsin-Whitewater for the second time after Illinois beat the Warhawks on Friday afternoon.

The Illini got off to a quick start, leading by double digits for most of the game. Illinois controlled the game thanks to a fullcourt press that forced a high number of Warhawk turnovers. Senior Helen Freeman led the Illini with 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting, and Kendra Zeman added 14.

The final game of the tournament featured the Illini men’s team against its biggest rival: Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Illinois opened the game on a tear, with Goncin and Neiswender each knocking down early threes, but the success was short-lived. The Illini once again got into foul trouble and put the Warhawks in the bonus halfway through the first half. Goncin scored 19 points throughout the first and led the Illini to a three-point lead at the half, 35-32.

The Illini lost the lead early in the second half due to more foul trouble and to the Warhawks’ size inside. Illinois could not compete in the post, and UW-W went on to beat the Illini 72-60. Goncin finished with 31 points in his final home game for the Illini. Neiswender added 17 in the loss.

Despite the tough loss, Buchi was pleased overall with his team’s play and with the quality of the tournament.

“We loved the turnout that we had and for us we played really well,” Buchi said. “We hit some major strides, and I think communication and making the individual reads and small adjustments is what we need to work on, which is great for us at this point of the season.”

Lucas can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @LucasWright95.