Indiana 56, UI 46: Notebook
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Before the first media timeout in Sunday’s 56-46 loss to Indiana, Tracy Abrams checked out of the game and limped to the end of the bench in the direction of athletic trainer Paul Schmidt with a grimace on his face.
After first refusing medical treatment, Abrams retreated to the locker room for an evaluation and then checked back into the game a few minutes later. He repeated the cycle one more time in the first half but was never able to fully recover and played a season-low 13 minutes while battling back spasms.
“He’s had it throughout the year a little bit here and there at practices and a little bit in games, but he’s been able to snap out of it,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “Paul told me he wasn’t able to ... whatever he does. He’s a trainer, I’m not. He wasn’t quite able to get it feeling good as normally when we ran into that issue before.”
Abrams, Illinois’ second-leading scorer, scored a season-low two points against the Hoosiers. His injury comes after top scorer Rayvonte Rice played through an adductor strain the last two weeks, which hampered his play.
“(Abrams) wants to go, obviously. I’ve played that game before,” Groce said. “Ray was injured a little bit in a previous game. I just kind of made up my mind on Round 2 going through that I was going to play healthy guys.”
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In Abrams’ absence, freshman point guard Jaylon Tate answered the bell and played a season-high 29 minutes against Indiana. Tate tied his Big Ten career high with six points, and he dished out all five of Illinois’ assists Sunday to go with three turnovers.
“I thought Tate played really well when Abrams got dinged up there a little bit. Jaylon was ready to go. He took the whole next-man-up concept to another level,” Groce said. “I thought he did a great job being ready, made some good plays for us, learned a few freshman lessons there late in the game. Jaylon’s a kid who cares a lot; he watches film all the time. He’ll have to kind of figure it out. I thought his play was good.”
Said Tate: “When your number’s called, you just have to be ready. The coaches keep telling me to stay ready. My teammates give me confidence. I just help contribute.”
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After he went scoreless in Thursday’s loss at Ohio State, Illinois’ Rice had a conversation with his mother. They wondered if he had ever gone a game in his basketball life without scoring a single point.
The consensus was no, he had never gone scoreless before.
He made sure it didn’t happen again with an early burst Sunday, scoring 12 of Illinois’ first 16 points and finishing with 20, the first time he’s scored at least 20 since going for a career-high 29 against the Hoosiers on New Year’s Eve.
“I watched the film, saw how teams were playing me, talked to the coaches to see where there were opportunities I could score the ball,” Rice said. “I’ve never had a game like that before, so I guess it helped (scoring early). My teammates did a great job of giving me chances to score.”
Groce was glad to see his top scorer return to form.
“I thought the encouraging thing was Ray had a great bounceback game,” Groce said.
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In the first meeting between these two teams, Indiana big man Noah Vonleh scored 16 points against the Illini, doing most of his damage from the free throw line, draining 10 of 12 tries to go along with his two three-pointers.
On Sunday, the six-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week was limited to four points, though he snatched down 14 rebounds. Groce praised the defensive effort of his big man, Nnanna Egwu.
“Nnanna is a terrific defender. Vonleh is a great player. He’s a great rebounder, great skill set, good athlete. I really like him a lot. He’s a good player,” Groce said. “Nnanna did a good job. I thought he made it hard on him and battled him enough to where he had to earn everything. I thought our team did a good job of when the ball went in to him, helping and being conscious of that. I thought that was an encouraging area. I thought our post defense was pretty good.”
Egwu was solid at both ends of the floor Sunday. After going scoreless in consecutive games, the junior has scored 18 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in his last two games after Sunday’s eight-point, five-rebound performance.
“I thought that Egwu was really good offensively. He was good rebounding the ball,” Groce said. “I thought he defended well. That’s two games in a row back-to-back where he did some really good things for us.”
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Illinois coaches and support staff wore sneakers with the suits on the sideline Sunday in support of Coaches vs. Cancer. The cause has raised more than $87 million toward cancer research, and coaches across the country donned the same look this weekend to show awareness for the cause.
Tom Crean and his Indiana staff also wore sneakers Sunday, but they opted to go with sweat suits instead of business suits.
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Jerry Hester found it odd seeing his former assistant coach at Illinois, Rob Judson, wearing Indiana gear Sunday.
“He’s a traitor,” Hester joked before the game.
Judson, the former Illinois guard and assistant coach, joined the Indiana staff last week as the director of basketball operations. Sunday was his third game with the Hoosiers and just the second time in his career he had coached against his alma mater.
“I don’t like to see him in those colors, but it’s great to see him back in basketball,” Hester said. “He belongs in basketball. He’s a great basketball mind, so that’s good to see.”
Judson was on staff at Illinois during Hester’s senior season when the Illini won the Big Ten. Judson, who recruited the Peoria Manual product during his time as an assistant at Bradley, helped Hester out of an early-season shooting slump.
“I struggled from the three-point line the first couple of weeks of the season, and he told me not to take another three-pointer for the next few games. He told me to get the ball to the basket and shoot 15-foot jump shots,” Hester said. “I did that, and from that point forward I shot 40 percent from three the rest of the season. He understands players and what buttons to press. He was great for me.”
The two spent some time on the court together before Sunday’s game.
“He was always great, always had great energy,” Hester said. “He helped me become a better person off the court because he’s such a great person.”