Illinois men‘s basketball falls short against No. 5 Purdue in regular season finale despite late surge


Guard Sencire Harris runs to attempt to prevent Purdue from making it to the Illini’s side of the court to make a score attempt during Sunday’s game. The University of Illinois Fighting Illini Men’s Basketball team travels to West Lafayette, Indiana, to take on the Purdue Boilermakers in the last game of the regular season. The Illini are tied for second place with six other teams in the Big Ten conference all boasting a record of 11-8. Purdue holds the top spot with 14-5.

By James Kim, Sports Editor

Five points short. Despite overcoming a 21-point deficit, Illinois’ late push came up just short of upsetting No. 5 Purdue in West Lafayette on Sunday. After falling 76-71 to the Boilermakers, the Illini conclude the regular season 20-11 overall and 11-9 in the Big Ten conference.

Freshman guard Jayden Epps, who suffered a head injury earlier in the week, did not travel with the team on Sunday. Head coach Brad Underwood started with the same team that downed Michigan, with senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr., sophomore guard RJ Melendez, fifth-year forward Matthew Mayer, junior guard Coleman Hawkins and redshirt sophomore Dain Dainja taking the floor.

The Illini came out extremely slow to begin the game, allowing the Boilermakers to build a quick double-digit lead. The visitors didn’t get their first points until the 16:39 mark as Mayer knocked down a jumper, bringing the score to 11-2.

There was little Illinois could do in the face of Purdue’s efficiency from the field. Zach Edey and company looked like a well-oiled machine as the Boilermakers shot 80% from the floor halfway through the first half. Then freshman guard Sencire Harris entered the game.

Harris provided a crucial spark to kickstart the slow-moving Illini, going back and forth with the Boilermakers to prevent an increased deficit. Hawkins, Mayer and sophomore guard Luke Goode added to the momentum and Illinois enjoyed a 12-2 scoring run. Purdue’s substantial lead was quickly cut to just three points before Edey ended the drought.

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Despite being one possession away from tying the contest, the Illini cooled off drastically and allowed the Boilermakers to rebuild their advantage. The visitors collapsed to close out the first half, falling victim to a 14-2 run that put Purdue in front by 17 points.

By halftime, the Illini found themselves on the wrong end of a 47-26 scoreline. Underwood’s squad had shot a mere 1-8 from beyond the arc compared to the Boilermakers’ 6-12 three-point accuracy.

Coming out of the break, the Illini began to heat up from distance. Hawkins and Shannon scored back-to-back triples for the visitors to maintain pace with the Boilermakers’ consistent scoring. Goode’s five straight points at the 12:13 mark brought the 21-point deficit down to 11, and soon after Mayer brought the team back within single digits. After the abysmal first-half three-point shooting, Illinois was hitting at a much healthier 4-7 rate during the first ten minutes of the second period.

Shannon brought the Illini within eight points after completing a three-point play at the 6:53 mark. Shortly after, the visitors sparked a 6-0 run to come within four points entering the final five minutes of play.

The Boilermakers struggled to match the Illini’s newfound momentum as Shannon brought the visitors within one after a huge triple-make. Mayer tied the game at 67-67, but Edey’s jumper forced the Illini to foul and the Boilermakers did not miss. Illinois battled until the end but came up just short, with Purdue taking the contest by a 76-71 result.

The Illini will be back in action later this week as they wait to hear their seeding at the Big Ten tournament in Chicago.



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