Illini Bow Out With 89-58 Loss To Purdue
A balanced scoring attack and blistering shooting percentage rocketed the Purdue men past Illinois 89-58 Friday afternoon in Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal action at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Purdue led by as much as 44 points before Coach Matt Painter emptied his bench, thus saving Illinois the ignominy of surpassing the record it set Wednesday for the biggest blowout in tourney history.
Five players tallied double-figures for the Boilermakers. Isaac Haas scored 16, Vince Edwards 14, Dakota Mathias and Caleb Swanigan 11, and AJ Hammons 10 to go with 8 rebounds. Swanigan led all players with a dozen boards.
The Boilers shot 58% from the field and 13 of 27 (48%) from three-point range. The two-headed monster of Hammons and Haas connected on 13 of 15 attempts. Painter said he wasn’t surprised.
“They’ve been pretty consistent all year,” said Painter of Hammons and Haas. Per 40 minutes, they’re the one and two leading scorers in our league. And so together, they’re the best center in the country. It’s really hard to go up against Hammons and have Haas come in there and bang on you also. Both of them have good post moves. And so they don’t have to have dunks or layups all the time to score the basketball. So they put guys in binds.”
Illini coach John Groce wasn't surprised, either. He said he knew what was coming, and it kept him up all night.
“They were a buzz saw today,” said Groce after the game. “I’m going to give them a lot of credit. I saw it late last night, which is probably why I didn’t sleep very well, watching their game against Wisconsin, because I hadn’t watched it in its entirety yet. I saw that they were doing damage from both the three-point line and the interior. So I knew it was going to be a great challenge for us today to defend. And they had a lot of answers today, obviously. When you go 22 for 33 on two’s, and 13 for 27 on three’s, that makes them even harder to guard with their size. They’re hitting you both from inside and outside.”
Purdue assisted on 25 of its 35 made field goals. Illinois got assists on 11 of its 22 makes. Illinois committed only 7 turnovers to Purdue’s 10, but the Boilers out-rebounded the Illini by a margin of 42-24.
Three Illini scored in double-figures, led by junior center Maverick Morgan, who scored 17. Malcolm Hill added 16, and Kendrick Nunn 13.
In the Illini locker room, Groce confirmed the loss would be the last game of the year, meaning Illinois will not compete in a tertiary post-season tournament, such as the College Basketball Invitational, or the Vegas 16.
Purdue now has a record for the year of 25 wins and 7 losses. The Boilermakers will next face Michigan, which stunned top-seeded Indiana in Friday’s first quarter-final game. The Purdue-Michigan semifinal game tips at 1 pm Saturday. In the Big Ten tourney’s other semi-final, Michigan State will battle Maryland.
Illinois finishes the year at 15-19, their worst record in program history. But at the end of a tumultuous season, junior wing Kendrick Nunn was in a reflective mood.
“I think the most important thing we learned is a little bit of perseverance,” said Nunn. “And I also learned that as a player myself, playing without the ball, I’m still like an important value to the game, and to make other players better.”
The off-season for Illini basketball program begins with the filing of NCAA hardship waivers on behalf of Tracy Abrams and Mike Thorne, Jr, both of whom will seek a sixth year of eligibility after suffering two season-ending injuries, each. Also this spring, the adjudication of felony assault charges against suspended sophomore forward Leron Black will go some way in determining his future with the program. Groce mentioned Black in his post-game comments Friday, but only to say that Black's future status with the team is uncertain.