Illinois basketball hangs tough but fails to close in loss to Wisconsin

Illinois+forward+Giorgi+Bezhanishvili+%2815%29+cheers+on+his+team+from+the+sideline+during+the+game+against+Wisconsin+at+State+Farm+Center+on+Wednesday%2C+Jan.+23.+The+Illini+lost+72-60.
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Illinois basketball hangs tough but fails to close in loss to Wisconsin

Illinois forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili (15) cheers on his team from the sideline during the game against Wisconsin at State Farm Center on Wednesday, Jan. 23. The Illini lost 72-60.

Illinois forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili (15) cheers on his team from the sideline during the game against Wisconsin at State Farm Center on Wednesday, Jan. 23. The Illini lost 72-60.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili (15) cheers on his team from the sideline during the game against Wisconsin at State Farm Center on Wednesday, Jan. 23. The Illini lost 72-60.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili (15) cheers on his team from the sideline during the game against Wisconsin at State Farm Center on Wednesday, Jan. 23. The Illini lost 72-60.

By Jake Hasan, On-air sports editor

The Illini played a hard-fought game on Wednesday night but ultimately lost a close game against the Badgers 72-60.

With Wisconsin not missing a shot until about the 11-minute mark in the first half, it looked like the Illini might be in for a long night, but Illinois kept things close by trading baskets. Forcing the Badgers into turnovers and relying on freshmen Giorgi Bezhanishvili, the Illini went into the locker room down just 32-30.

Coach Brad Underwood liked what he initially saw from his team,

“I thought our approach tonight was really good,” Underwood said. “I thought our game plan was really good.”

However, the Illini could only muster 9 points off of 10 Wisconsin turnovers. That, coupled with the Illini shooting just 36 percent, allowed Wisconsin to still hold on to lead for nearly 13 minutes in the half.

In the second half, Illinois struggled to get going as they didn’t score their first point until nearly three minutes into the half.

The scoring woes didn’t stop there, as the Illini shot just 34 percent from the field in the second half.

Wisconsin helped Illinois out, sending the Illini to the bonus with about 15 minutes left in the game. Yet Illinois couldn’t capitalize, hitting just 10 of 18 shot at the line.

“At the end of the day as a high major college basketball player you go to make shots, go to make layups, got to make free throws,” Jordan said. “Can’t have nights like this.”

Despite the rest of the team’s struggles, it was still Giorgi Bezhanishvili’s show. The freshman finished with 20 points and 8 rebounds, as he continues to look like a budding star for the Illini. But even he was critical of Illinois’ play against Wisconsin,

“We have to be tougher in the game, tough-minded,” Bezhanishvili said. “We can’t be soft-minded and miss free throws.”

The Illini were able to contain Wisconsin’s star forward Ethan Happ, who scored just 9 points and had to sit out for long stretches due to foul trouble. Coach Underwood praised Bezhanishvili’s work on the Badger senior.

“(His performance) shows how good he is; he took the challenge,” Underwood said. “It was a great opportunity … he was a load on both ends. We gotta continue to feed him.”

Despite their forward’s struggles, the Badgers still made it a point to go inside often, repeatedly challenging the young Illini big men and scoring 30 of their 72 points inside the paint.

Illinois also sent the Badgers to the line 21 times, with Wisconsin sinking 17 of their free throws.

Freshmen Alan Griffin, Tevian Jones and Samba Kane were called upon early and logged some minutes in the first half.  In the second half, however, Jones logged just two minutes while Kane and Griffin didn’t check in.

“No reason,” Underwood said on the few minutes. “(It was the) tempo of the game: so many timeouts and delays.”

Before leaving Jordan exited with a lasting comment when asked about his individual performance.

“We didn’t win, so nothing went well.”

The Illini will next travel to New York on Saturday to take on Maryland.