Abrams leads Illinois over IPFW 57-55

By Johnathan Hettinger

Tracy Abrams refused to let Illinois lose.

His Illini trailing by 11 points with 3 seconds remaining in the first half, Abrams drove to the basket, hit a lay-up for his first points of the game and was fouled. He hit the free throw and the Illini trailed 35-27 at the half.

After intermission, Abrams picked up where he left off, scoring six points in the first four minutes of the second half on his way to a 15-point night. He also stole the ball four times.

“Dude’s a winner,” Illinois head coach John Groce said of his point guard. “He’s an extension of what I want said and what I want echoed and tonight, he did that at the highest level since I’ve coached him.”

Abrams had plenty of help from Rayvonte Rice, who scored 17 points and grabbed six rebounds and two steals, including one that led to two free throws with 7.5 seconds left to lift Illinois (7-0) to a 57-55 victory over Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne (6-3).

“(Their) effort level increased in the second half,” IPFW head coach Tony Jasick said. “On the offensive end, they became much more aggressive.”

Abrams was key to that aggression, driving to the basket and shooting six free throws in the second half. Abrams gave the Illini momentum with his scoring, but he also lifted his teammates in the second half.

“He’s getting other guys. He’s pulling them with him,” Groce said.

Nnanna Egwu had all seven of his rebounds in the second half. Illinois committed just three turnovers in the second half after committing 11 in the first, including a stretch of six consecutive possessions that ended in turnovers.

The Illini were able to get to the free throw line 18 times in the second half, though they only converted nine. IPFW converted just two of its 13 free throw attempts. Additionally, the Illini were 1-for-12 from beyond the arc, after shooting 3-for-9 in the first half.

Illinois was outrebounded 39-33, just the second time in seven games the Illini grabbed fewer boards than their opponent. Illinois also had two assists between its five starters and a 6-to-14 assist-to-turnover ratio. The bench added three points.

“It’s not good enough,” Groce said of the box score. “We have a long way to go, but we found a way to win. We’re not going to apologize for that. We’re not going to give it back.”

Johnathan can be reached at [email protected] and @jhett93.