Illinois men’s basketball loses at Rutgers on last-second shot

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Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (21) pulls up for a jumper during the game against Michigan State at State Farm Center on Wednesday, March 1.

By Lucas Wright, Staff writer

In heartbreaking fashion, Illinois dropped its final Big Ten game of the season at Rutgers 62-59 on Saturday.

In a 59-59 game with less than 10 seconds to play, Deshawn Freeman hit a deep three to take the lead and put Illinois’ NCAA Tournament hopes to bed.

A flat start out of the gate plagued the Illini offense throughout the opening minutes. Illinois was held scoreless through the first four minutes, giving Rutgers a seven-point lead.

But the low scoring Scarlet Knights didn’t take advantage and couldn’t push the lead past seven.

Illinois found an inkling of momentum in the middle of the first half, finding Jalen Coleman-Lands for two three-pointers, with the latter giving the Illini a first-half high four-point lead.

Illinois struggled to get the ball inside early, settling for perimeter jumpers without moving the ball through the paint. Maverick Morgan was held to three points in the opening half, but Malcolm Hill kept the offense alive with nine points.

Despite the momentum, Rutgers climbed back to take a three-point halftime lead, 30-27.

The Illini came out of the half with a sense of urgency, led by Hill. Illinois tied up the game at 32-32 on a steal and a breakaway dunk by Hill, forcing Rutgers into a quick timeout.

From there, Morgan led a personal six point run, and three-pointers from Coleman-Lands and Finke stretched the lead to 10 points just 5:30 into the second half.

But the Illini couldn’t put the Scarlet Knights away, which has plagued the team all season.

Rutgers climbed back to a tie at the nine-minute mark largely due to the three-point shooting from junior Mike Williams.

The game was back-and-forth through to the final minute until Freeman hit the eventual game winner. Tracy Abrams had a clean look at a tying three on the other end, but it fell short.

Despite a poor shooting night from the floor, Hill led the way with 16 points and seven assists. Morgan followed suit with 16 points and eight rebounds.

The loss dropped Illinois to 18-13 on the season, and the team has most likely fallen out of the NCAA Tournament conversation.

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An earlier version of this article said that Corey Sanders hit the game winner Saturday, but it was Deshawn Freeman who made the shot. The Daily Illini regrets the error.