Illinois opens Big Ten play with overtime win over Indiana

Illinois+head+coach+John+Groce+instructs+his+team+from+the+sideline+during+the+game+against+Indiana+at+State+Farm+Center%2C+on+Tuesday%2C+Dec.+31%2C+2013.+The+Illini+won+83-80.

Illinois’ head coach John Groce instructs his team from the sideline during the game against Indiana at State Farm Center, on Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013. The Illini won 83-80.

John Groce had countless cliches to describe Illinois’ 83-80 overtime victory over Indiana: a “dogfight,” a “heavyweight boxing match,” a “heck of a ball game.”

Tuesday’s Big Ten opener was all of those things and more. The Illini (12-2, 1-0 Big Ten) outlasted the Hoosiers (10-4, 0-1) behind Rayvonte Rice’s 29 points, taking advantage of 23 Indiana turnovers.

Neither team led by double-digits at any point in the game, which was played in front of 16,618 mostly orange-clad fans at State Farm Center. Indiana point guard Yogi Ferrell led the Hoosiers with 30 points, a career high. He outdueled Rice by one, but it was Illinois’ defense that won out.

“Our hands were active, which led to some of the steals,” Groce said. “I thought Farrell was terrific today.”

The game was heated from the beginning and it boiled over when Groce was given a technical with less than a minute remaining in the first half for standing outside the coach’s box. Neither Groce nor the home crowd liked the call. Ferrell hit the ensuing free throws to give Indiana a 36-34 lead.

The Illini responded with a Joseph Bertrand mid-range jumper to tie it. On Indiana’s next possession, forward Will Sheehey had the ball stolen by Rice, who took it in for a three-point play after a foul by Sheehey.

Sheehey answered with a three in the waning seconds of the half to even the score at 39 apiece going into the break.

The back-and-forth affair would continue into the final minute of regulation.

With 48.7 to play, Ferrell hit a pair of free throws to tie the game 71-71. Illinois had a chance to take the lead but Rice’s shot was blocked. Indiana’s Evan Gordon missed the Hoosiers chance at a game-winner and another five minutes were needed to decide a winner.

Overtime opened with a Nnanna Egwu mid-range jumper and the Illini never let the Hoosiers grab the lead back. Eight of Illinois’ 12 overtime points came from the free throw line.

With 30 seconds to play, Bertrand missed a free throw that would have put Illinois up four. Indiana’s Noah Vonleh grabbed the board, and it looked as if the Hoosiers would have a chance to tie the game. But Illini forward Jon Ekey knocked it from his hands and jumped on the loose ball, calling a timeout.

Groce said that play is exactly what he sees from Ekey everyday in practice.

Moments later, trailing 81-77, Ferrell hit a deep 3-pointer to pull within one. Illinois inbounded the ball to Rice, who was fouled and hit both free throws to put the Illini up three with just more than two seconds to play.

The Hoosiers tried to find Farrell on a desperation attempt to tie the game, but the pass was deflected away by Rice and the clock ran out on the Hoosiers.

Illinois held Indiana to two field goals in the game’s final 11 minutes. The Hoosiers made up for it by getting to the free-throw line 30 times and hitting 24 of their attempts.

Illinois point guard Tracy Abrams praised Farrell after the game.

“He’s trying to find a way. He was making plays and credit to our D finding a way to contain him,” Abrams said. “He worked pretty hard in the offseason and it’s showing.”

But both Groce and Indiana head coach Tom Crean thought it was Illinois’ toughness that pulled this one out.

“We’ve got some tough dudes in the locker room,” Groce said. “Both teams were attacking. I thought it was a really aggressive game.”

Sean can be reached at [email protected] and @sean_hammond.