Illinois drops third-straight to No. 14 Purdue
February 28, 2019
Illinois came into Mackey Arena and turned heads, taking a slim, 33-32 lead into the half over No. 14 Purdue.
The crowd was incensed with the officiating for much of the night, raining boos down as the buzzer sounded the end of the first 20 minutes in West Lafayette, Indiana.
But the Boilermakers hadn’t lost on their home court all season, and they wouldn’t be denied that night, overwhelming the Illini down the stretch to win 73-56.
Purdue (21-7, 14-3 Big Ten, T-1st) roared out of the halftime break with a 12-2 burst to take a 44-35 lead into the under-16:00 timeout, but Illinois (10-18, 6-11 Big Ten, T-10th) answered with a 13-4 run of its own to tie things up at 48 with 9:43 to go.
That was as good as things would get for Illinois in the second half, as Purdue rode the game out on a 25-8 run.
Purdue shot 55.1 percent from the field and 33.3 (5-of-15) from three-point range. Conversely, Illini went just 8-of-29 from beyond the arc (27.6 percent) and shot 32.8 percent from the field.
Head coach Brad Underwood lamented his team’s 29 three-point attempts and an inability to feed Giorgi Bezhanishvili the ball in good positions offensively.
“Giorgi was never a part of this game really tonight,” Underwood said. “That’s partly attributed to us not finding him. You can’t go on the road and take 30 threes, especially when you’re not making them.”
Bezhanishvili went just 1-of-4 from the field with two points, tying a season-low from Nov. 25 against Mississippi Valley State.
Prior to Wednesday night, Bezhanishvili had scored in double figures in each of the Illini’s last five games, including a freshman-record 35 points in an overtime win over Rutgers on Feb. 9.
Senior guard Aaron Jordan said it was the guards’ responsibility to feed Bezhanishvili and their failure to set him up well was part of what sank the Illini’s chances on the night.
“We need to get the ball in the paint; we need to get the ball inside to Giorgi,” Jordan said. “He works his butt off. He does a lot for this team. Again, that’s on the guards, that’s us. We’ve got to pass the ball inside. We’re not going to win shooting threes on the road. It doesn’t happen like that.”
Lead guards Trent Frazier and Ayo Dosunmu each struggled to make an impact, going a combined 7-of-22 from the field and 3-of-11 from beyond the arc.
Frazier is just 3-of-15 from three-point range in his last two outings.
Freshman guard Alan Griffin noted there wasn’t someone else who helped shoulder the scoring burden in light of the team’s go-to scorers’ ineffectiveness on Wednesday night.
Andres Feliz and Dosunmu led the team in scoring, with nine points each, but Feliz wasn’t very efficient. The junior went 3-of-7 from the field and 1-of-4 from three-point range.
“It definitely makes it tough for us when one of those two are not going,” Griffin said. “That really makes the next man up have (to pick it up) and no one showed up tonight really.”
Purdue outscored Illinois 40-18 in the paint, a lot of which came from 7-foot-3 forward Matt Haarms. The sophomore went a perfect 8-of-8 from the field for 21 points and hauled in 10 rebounds and blocking five shots.
Senior guard Carsen Edwards, who dropped 40 points on Illinois in Champaign last season, scored 23 points on 8-of-14 (2-of-5 3FG) shooting.
Jordan said the game was decided by Illinois’ inability to get stops on defense and in transition.
“Just executing on our part,” Jordan said. “Honestly, it was really on the defensive end. They beat us down the floor in transition multiple times, that kind of sparked their run. We can’t have that.”
Illinois can take some solace in a strong first half showing, though Purdue came out and did what it was expected to do in the second half as 13-point favorites.
“Early on it was there,” Jordan said. “Coach (Underwood) said it was probably one of our best halves. But then when they made the adjustment, we didn’t keep our pressure on them. Our best post defense is our guards, so that’s our guards’ fault.”
Illinois has now lost seven-straight games at Mackey Arena, dating back to 2008.
Underwood summed up the loss simply.
“Purdue is so good in this building and in transition,” he said. “You take a bad shot, they’re one of the elite teams in college basketball in making you pay for that.”