News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 13, 2014

Abrams leads Illini over IU in Big Ten tournament

Andy Proffet
Tribune-Star correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS — Now, Indiana waits.

To see if the NIT wants the Hoosiers for an at-large berth.

To see if Noah Vonleh will head to the NBA after one season in Bloomington.

Tracy Abrams and Illinois hastened the decision process Thursday afternoon, defeating IU 64-54 in the first round of the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Abrams scored a season-high 25 points, two shy of his career high. And while the ninth-seeded Illini prepare for today’s second-round game with No. 1 seed Michigan, the Hoosiers head back to Bloomington with hopes that a 17-15 record gets them at least one more game.

IU coach Tom Crean wasn’t ready to define this season yet.

“Because I hope it keeps going,” he said. “I hope we continue to play. It would be an honor to keep playing.”

The Hoosiers dug themselves an early hole against Illinois (19-13). The Hoosiers missed their first nine shots and the Illini led 9-0, prompting a timeout by Crean with less than four minutes gone.

Will Sheehey finally got the Hoosiers on the board more than two minutes later. He scored 11 of his 13 points in the first half, shooting 4 of 5 from the field and 3 of 3 on 3-pointers.

IU had struggled all season from beyond the arc but found its way against the Illini — at least for a half.

After making 6 of 10 3s in the first half, IU was 0 for 10 from beyond the arc in the second half.

“I think we had some sets where we had pretty good movement against the zone [in the second half], but it wasn’t on a consistent basis,” said Sheehey, who may have played his final game for IU on Thursday.

Despite the 9-0 hole, IU battled back, then overcame a 30-28 halftime deficit to lead 38-33.

That’s when Abrams took over, scoring 17 points in the final 12:33.

“We were just taking what they gave us,” Abrams said. “Just attacking and being aggressive.”

The Hoosiers still had a chance, pulling within 53-52 on a layup by Austin Etherington with 3:13 remaining.

But Abrams scored the next five points and IU took too much time in taking bad shots and Illinois was on its way to the second round.

Vonleh, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, has been rumored to be planning to leave for the NBA. But he didn’t want to talk about it Thursday.

If he has played his last game at Indiana, he’ll go out on a six-point, five-rebound performance as the Illini constantly double-teamed him.

Yogi Ferrell led the Hoosiers with 14 points. Troy Williams scored 11 as the Hoosiers got just four points from their bench.

Rayvonte Rice tallied 13 points and Kendrick Nunn added 10 for the Illini, who have a short turnaround to get ready for the Big Ten regular-season champion. Michigan rolled to an 84-53 win over the Illini on March 4.

ILLINOIS (64) — Abrams 8-16 7-9 25, Hill 2-3 2-3 8, Rice 4-9 5-6 13, Nunn 3-8 4-4 10, Egwu 1-8 0-0 2, Tate 0-0 0-0 0, Bertrand 0-2 0-0 0, LaTulip 0-0 0-0 0, Morgan 0-0 0-0 0, Ekey 2-4 0-0 6. Totals 20-50 18-22 64.

INDIANA (54) — Sheehey 5-7 0-0 13, Vonleh 3-9 0-1 6, Williams 4-5 2-2 11, Ferrell 3-13 6-6 14, Robinson 1-5 4-6 6, Gordon 0-2 0-0 0, Mosquera-Perea 0-0 0-0 0, Etherington 1-2 0-0 2, Davis 1-3 0-0 2, Hollowell 0-5 0-0 0. Totals 18-51 12-15 54.

Halftime—Illinois 30-28. 3-point goals—Illinois 6-15 (Hill 2-2, Ekey 2-4, Abrams 2-5, Rice 0-2, Nunn 0-2), Indiana 6-20 (Sheehey 3-4, Ferrell 2-9, Williams 1-2, Etherington 0-1, Robinson 0-1, Gordon 0-1, Vonleh 0-2). Fouled out—none. Rebounds—Illinois 32 (Abrams, Egwu 7), Indiana 35 (Hollowell 6). Assists—Illinois 10 (Abrams, Bertrand, Nunn, Rice 2), Indiana 15 (Sheehey 5). Total fouls—Illinois 16, Indiana 18. A—NA.