Illini fall apart down stretch at Georgia Tech


Illinois head coach John Groce reacts late in the second half against Georgia Tech in a Big Ten/ACC Challenge game at McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013. The host Yellow Jackets won, 67-64.

By Shannon Ryan

ATLANTA — Illinois coach John Groce liked his team’s toughness. He praised how they played together and was satisfied with the effort they gave.

But their execution?

“I thought our execution was absolutely pathetic,” Groce said. “It was awful.”

As quickly as the Illini gained a 12-point lead, they wilted to deserve that apt description.

A vanishing offense produced the Illini’s first loss of the season, a 67-64 defeat to Georgia Tech on Tuesday night in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.

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    The Illini (7-1) led 60-48 with 9 minutes, 13 seconds remaining after an aggressive run led by Rayvonte Rice.

    But the Illini scored only one field goal the rest of the way at the McCamish Pavilion as the Yellow Jackets (6-3) ended the game on a 19-4 run.

    Georgia Tech’s Robert Carter Jr. made a 3-pointer with just less than a minute left to cut the Illini lead to 64-63. Illini center Nnanna Egwu turned it over on the other end and center Daniel Miller, who overpowered Egwu under the basket, gave the Yellow Jackets the lead.

    With about five seconds left, Joseph Bertrand missed a 3-pointer and Tracy Abrams fouled Carter, who made both free throws.

    At the buzzer, Abrams then missed an open 3-pointer that would have tied the game.

    “They were the better team tonight,” Rice said of Georgia Tech.

    The loss ended a streak of four straight victories in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge for the Illini, who beat Georgia Tech last season in Champaign.

    “Losing to Illinois, we wanted to get that game back,” said Yellow Jackets forward Marcus Georges-Hunt, who finished with 20 points. Carter led Georgia Tech with 21 points.

    Rice almost saved the game for a third straight time after the Illini fell behind at halftime. He finished with 24 points with three assists, two blocks and two steals.

    He scored 15 of 17 Illini points in one second-half spurt but his shots were limited in the final stretch as he said Georgia Tech’s defense “packed in tight” to keep him out of the lane.

    Egwu and point guard Abrams especially struggled for Illinois, although Groce said he has not lost confidence in either player.

    Egwu played only 11 first-half minutes and picked up his fourth foul with about 71/2 minutes left in the second half. He shot 4 of 11 for nine points with just four rebounds and three turnovers.

    Abrams connected on only 1 of 7 field goals for seven points, missing all three of his 3-point attempts. He also picked up three fouls and turned the ball over three times to only two assists.

    “He’ll be fine long term,” Groce said of Abrams, who is shooting 31 percent this season.

    Groce was more disappointed in his team’s lack of execution in key moments, such as after timeouts, where he said it committed a number of its 11 turnovers.

    “That’s inexcusable,” he said. “We have to figure that out. I didn’t like our execution at all.”