Tracy Abrams spurs Illinois basketball past Indiana

Illinois’ Tracy Abrams (13) attempts a floater after drawing a foul during the first round game of the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament against Indiana at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse, on Thursday, Mar. 13, 2014 The Illini won 64-54. The shot did not count.

INDIANAPOLIS — Tracy Abrams found ways to get the ball in the basket all afternoon Thursday, but with Illinois up a point and less than two minutes to play, Indiana somehow forgot about him.

From the left wing Abrams faked a shot and jab stepped. Two Indiana defenders flew in reverse, expecting a drive and leaving Abrams all alone to knock down an uncontested 3-pointer. The shot gave Illinois a cushion it would not relinquish.

The Illini beat the Hoosiers 64-54 in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament behind Abrams’ 25 points. They advance to a Friday quarterfinal matchup with No. 1-seeded Michigan.

Abrams shot 8-for-16 from the field with seven rebounds and just one turnover. He scored 17 of his 25 points in the second half and couldn’t believe how open he was after his shot-fake and jab.

“I looked and saw everyone was gone,” Abrams said. “I shot it with a lot of confidence. I feel like all my shots are good as soon as they leave my hands. It’s just a matter of following through and knocking it down.”

It was expected to be an evenly contested game and was from the beginning. Illinois opened the game on a 9-0 run with four different players scoring. The Hoosiers followed it with an 8-0 run of their own.

Will Sheehey spurred Indiana’s run and first half with three 3-pointers and 11 points in the half. The Hoosiers made eight field goals before halftime, and six of them were from behind the arc.

The teams locked down defensively in the second half, resulting in both squads being over the foul limit with more than 10 minutes to play. Illinois shot 22 free throws in the game, hitting 18 of them. Coming into the game, the Illini were averaging 12.9 made free throws per game.

An Indiana run in the second half put the Hoosiers up by as many as five, but the Illini locked down and went on another big run, this time with 11 unanswered points spurred by five from Abrams.

Nnanna Egwu made his presence known in the paint after being snubbed by the Big Ten coaches for the conference’s All-Defensive team. Egwu blocked five shots and snatched seven rebounds. He helped hold Indiana center Noah Vonleh to just six points in 32 minutes of play.

Indiana scored two points in the paint in the first half, while the Illini put in 16. Egwu was a big reason why.

“It wasn’t just me today,” Egwu said. “I got a lot of help. I just feed off my teammates. When I see them being aggressive, I be aggressive. It was about doing what we can do to contain Indiana.”

The Illini held the Hoosiers to 35.3 percent shooting for the game. Yogi Ferrell led Indiana with 14 points, followed by Sheehey with 13 and Troy Williams with 11. Behind Abrams, Rayvonte Rice scored 13, and Kendrick Nunn had 10. 

“For us to hold them to 35 percent (shooting) in both halves, that’s a really big challenge,” head coach John Groce said. “That allowed us to get through a drought or two offensively.” 

Illinois now gets a chance to exact revenge on the Big Ten champion Wolverines, who drubbed Illinois at home 84-53 on March 4.  

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