Georgia Tech 67, UI 64: 'Not going to panic'
ATLANTA — When Illinois knocked off UNLV on the road last week, there was a party of folks wearing orange on the Thomas & Mack Center floor to celebrate the win.
There were a bunch of Illini fans at Georgia Tech’s Hank McCamish Pavilion on Tuesday ready to duplicate last week’s party, and the folks in orange were primed to have a good time with their team leading 60-48 with 61/2 minutes to go.
Among the 2,000 or so Illini fans who made up the crowd of 6,516 were Illinois men’s golf coach Mike Small and the Illini women’s basketball team, which plays Georgia Tech tonight in the women’s edition of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Bobby Cremins Court.
But Marcus Georges-Hunt (20 points), Robert Carter Jr. (21 points, nine rebounds) and their Georgia Tech teammates closed the game on a 19-4 run to spoil any Illinois celebration plans en route to a 67-64 Big Ten/ACC Challenge win.
The Yellow Jackets (6-3) made plays, but this one was more about Illinois giving a game away than it was about Georgia Tech forcing the issue.
“I thought our execution was absolutely pathetic. I thought it was awful,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “Out of timeouts, bad. Bad passing, bad catching, not a toughness about us to execute what we needed to execute.”
In building the 60-48 lead, the Illini (7-1) executed well, particularly Rayvonte Rice, who scored a game-high 24 points to go along with two steals and two blocks.
But during the final 9:13, when the Illini shot 1 for 10 from the floor, Rice attempted two shots — a desperation three at the end of the shot clock and a missed layup.
“It was hard to score with two big guys down there. They kept it tight and made us shoot outside shots,” said Rice, who drew multiple defenders on Illinois’ final possession and kicked to Joseph Bertrand (10 points, six rebounds) for a three-pointer in the corner that missed.
Bertrand and Rice were the only two Illinois players to score in double figures. Nnanna Egwu scored nine, Tracy Abrams seven and Jon Ekey scored five to go along with nine rebounds as Groce opted to stick with his veterans down the stretch.
“You leave those guys out there last week, everybody’s high-fiving after the game,” Groce said. “You leave them out there this week, guys may question how fatigued they were.”
Tuesday’s loss, the first for the Illini in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge since 2008 against Clemson, is one that could potentially come back to bite them late in the season if they find themselves on the NCAA tournament bubble as Georgia Tech sits outside the top 200 in the RPI.
In the locker room and on the plane ride back to Champaign-Urbana, Groce was sending the message that it’s time to move on.
“I told those guys you’ve got to stay somewhere in the middle. We’re not going to panic. We’ll stay poised; we’ve got to learn from this one,” Groce said. “Our execution’s got to be better than it was (Tuesday), especially in games like this, or we’re going to have a lot of disappointment.”