Illini Fall To Clemson In NIT, 50-49
by The Associated Press, with additional reporting from Rob McColley
Rayvonte Rice led Illinois with 15 points, but the Fighting Illini's season came to an end with a 50-49 loss to Clemson in the second round of the NIT.
Rod Hall made a driving layup with 9.3 seconds left to lead Clemson to the one-point victory.
Illinois (20-15) led just once on Jon Ekey's 3-pointer that put the Illini ahead 49-48 with 2:06 left. Ekey finished with 11 points.
Tracy Abrams missed a 3-pointer for Illinois with 1.7 seconds left.
Illini Coach John Groce said was flummoxed by all the misses.
"I think 8 or 9 of (those misses), there wasn't anybody in the zip code," he said. "And we missed it. Of those ones that aren't in the zip code, let alone the ones that are challlenged, you've got to make 3 out of 9, 4 out of 9."
The Tigers (22-12) struggled to get the ball inbounds and threw it into the front court. Hall saved the ball from going out on the other endline and the clock ran out.
K.J. McDaniels led Clemson with 12 points, while Landry Nnoko had 11 points and eight rebounds.
The two teams came in to the game as mirror images of each other. Both boasting stout defensive numbers, but struggled throughout the season to put together consistent offense. That held true on Sunday.
Illinois trailed most of the game, but stayed within striking distance by forcing 15 Clemson turnovers - despite shooting just 38 percent from the floor and 14 percent from behind the arc.
By committing only 6 turnovers to Clemson's 15, and collecting nine steals to Clemson's none, the Illini kept the game close, despite losing the rebound battle 32 to 25. Illinois shot 51-percent from two-point range.
Groce said he's optimistic about next year.
"We're adding three transfers," he said. "We've got two freshman coming in. We're going to have some depth. Maybe the deepest team potentially, if the Lord blesses us with health, that we've had."
Clemson will host Belmont on Tuesday and the winner will go to New York for the NIT semifinals.