Illini basketball suffers season-ending blowout to Alabama in NIT

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Illini basketball suffers season-ending blowout to Alabama in NIT

Illinois' head coach John Groce talks to his team before the game against Nebraska at State Farm Center, on Wednesday, March 5, 2015. The Illini won 69-57.

Illinois' head coach John Groce talks to his team before the game against Nebraska at State Farm Center, on Wednesday, March 5, 2015. The Illini won 69-57.

Illinois' head coach John Groce talks to his team before the game against Nebraska at State Farm Center, on Wednesday, March 5, 2015. The Illini won 69-57.

Illinois' head coach John Groce talks to his team before the game against Nebraska at State Farm Center, on Wednesday, March 5, 2015. The Illini won 69-57.

The Illinois men’s basketball team didn’t come to play on Tuesday night.

Third-seeded Illinois (19-13, 9-9 Big Ten) was outplayed by sixth-seeded Alabama (18-14, 8-10 SEC) in all facets of the game in the first round of the NIT in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The Crimson Tide embarrassed the Illini from the start and eventually won the game 79-58.

Illinois managed to shoot 32.3 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from 3-point range, but the team struggled to score for the majority of the game. Sophomore guard Malcolm Hill, who finished with 20 points, three rebounds and six assists, led the Illini offensively.

Kendrick Nunn and senior guard Rayvonte Rice were the only other Illini in double figures with 12 and 10 points, respectively.

Alabama, on the other hand, shot the ball well for the entire game. The Crimson Tide were playing under interim coach John Brannen after head coach Anthony Grant was fired Sunday. They knocked down 59.6 percent of their shots from the field and 53.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Senior Levi Randolph led Alabama with 20 points and the team had four players reach double-digits. 

The Illini started the game well offensively, knocking down two of their first three shots, taking a 4-3 lead over the Crimson Tide on an Nnanna Egwu jumper.

The game went drastically downhill for the Illini from there. Illinois played flat and allowed a 19-0 Alabama run to break the game open.

The emotional toll of Illinois’ 18-point loss to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament on Thursday seemed to hang over the Illini’s heads in the first half.

The Illini started Jaylon Tate and Leron Black in place of Ahmad Starks and Malcolm Hill and the shakeup in the lineup seemed to mess with the Illini’s offense in the first half.

The Illini went 0-for-12 from the field during the Crimson Tide’s run before Hill scored two consecutive baskets to momentarily stop the bleeding.

Alabama answered with an 18-4 run of its own to boost its lead to 38-12.

Hill and Nunn combined for 18 of Illinois’ 22 first half points on 8-of-14 shooting.

Illinois ended the first half with a series of plays that were a microcosm of the half as a whole. Hill was blocked while attempting a three from the right wing that led to a transition layup to bring Alabama’s lead to 46-22 at the half.

While the Illini shot the ball abysmally from the field in the first half, Alabama’s lead grew more because of its superb shooting. The Crimson Tide shot 60.7 percent from the field and 50 percent from three before halftime.

Alabama picked up where it left off in the second half and the lead swelled to 30 points. As the half progressed, the Illini cut the lead to 20 points but couldn’t seem to get any closer to the Crimson Tide.

Illinois outrebounded Alabama 36-33 in the game and the Illini outscored the Crimson Tide 35-33 in the second half, but the first half deficit proved to be too much to make up down the stretch.

The 22-point loss marks the end of a disappointing season for the Illini, who had NCAA tournament aspirations coming into the season.

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