Season Likely Over For Illini Men After Loss In Big Ten Tournament

Kipper Nichols shoots over Iowa's Ryan Kriener, during the Illinois-Iowa game at the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament, Wednesday night in New York City

Kipper Nichols shoots over Iowa's Ryan Kriener during Illinois' 96-87 loss to the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament, Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Rob McColley/For Illinois Public Media

The Illini men played catch-up all night, but never caught the Iowa Hawkeyes, who won the opening game of the Big Ten Tournament 96-87, Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Kipper Nichols scored a career-high 31 points, but he didn't feel like celebrating afterward.

“It’s terrible”, said Nichols. “Whenever you go through all this with a group of guys, you go through the grind of a season, a pre-season, workouts early in the morning, late nights, whenever you invest that much with a group of guys that you call your brothers, when it comes to an end, it’s awful.”

Nichols and his teammates were plagued by foul trouble throughout the night. Trent Frazier fouled-out after scoring 13 points and dishing 6 assists. Te'Jon Lucas collected four fouls while scoring 12 and assisting on 8 additional baskets. Leron Black had four fouls and four points in only 17 minutes of action.

Graduate student Mark Alstork started the game, but played only 9 minutes after being hit in the left eye.

Meanwhile, Iowa had a field day exploiting its height advantage. Hawkeye big men Luka Garza and Tyler Cook scored 20 and 19 points respectively, and Iowa doubled Illinois' total rebounds 40-20. 

The Hawkeyes shot 56% from the floor, and 57 percent from three-point range. Jordan Bohannon hit 5-7 from three-point range, and led Iowa with 25 points.

Illini athletic director Josh Whitman declined to answer whether the team would seek an opportunity to play in a tertiary postseason tournament, such as the College Basketball Invitational.

Head coach Brad Underwood wouldn't say that the season is over, but acknowledged what his team won't be doing next.

“I know we’re not going to the NCAA tournament”, said Underwood. “I know we’re not going to the NIT. Beyond that, I haven’t been presented anything. We’ll see where that goes.”

Underwood said the immediate future was still up for evaluation. But he expected that, barring any further tournament appearances, the Illini men would take a certain number of mandatory days off.

“And then, we’ll have a very, very productive spring in the weight room”, Underwood said. “That’s when guys get better.”

If there are no further games, the Illini will have finished the season with a 14-18 overall record, 4-14 in the Big Ten Conference. 

Underwood wasn't ready to give himself a grade on his first year performance before taking some time to reflect on the last 11 months.

"Ask me in three weeks," he said.

Story source: WILL