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No. 2 Illinois 66, No. 7 Boston University 62 — Final

BOSTON — Thought it was going to be easy? Thanks to a 28-point effort from Rayvonte Rice, the Illini rallied from a 17-point deficit to knock off the host Terriers on Wednesday at Agganis Arena to advance to the second round of the NIT.

Rice scored 20 of his points in the second half to propel the Illini, who will play at Clemson in the second round of the tournament. The date and time of that game has yet to be announced.

The Illini (20-14) won despite a seven-point, 12-assist effort from Maurice Watson Jr. The Terriers (24-11) shot 11 for 24 from three-point range, seven of their treys coming in the first half.

Boston U was led in scoring by D.J. Irving, who had 17. John Papale and Dom Morris had 10 apiece.

Illinois got 10 points from Malcolm Hill and nine from Joseph Bertrand. 

More later on HQ.

No. 7 Boston U 53, No. 2 Illinois 43 — 9:30 second half

Maurice Watson has 11 assists tonight and we've still got a lot of time left here. He had 17 in a game this season. When you've got shooters like this, assists are easy to rack up.

John Papale was way off the mark with a three to start the half. Don't think you see that happen very often. He then passed on a couple of looks.

Malcolm Hill continues to prove he can shoot. He's 9 for his last 13 from three.

Illini helping off drivers way too often, leaving BU shooters open for the kill. 

I think the timeouts are longer than normal. Illinois is using the allotted time. BU has been out of their huddles early.

Illinois fans, now you know what opposing fans felt like last season when your team was making it rain on everyone from behind the three-point line. This is insane, these guys aren't missing.

BU is 11 for 23 from deep (47.8 percent). They've made four already this half.

John Groce was making sure official John Gaffney know he thought Jon Ekey should have drawn a charge.

Most everyone sitting in the expensive ($30) courtside seats are Illini fans.

No. 7 Boston U 33, No. 2 Illinois 24 — Halftime

There was a question as to whether Boston U would be over its loss last week in the Patriot League tournament championship. The answer is a resounding Yes.

If not for a late 8-0 run, the Illini might be completely out of this one.

Going into the under-4 timeout, Groce was more positive than he was for the previous timeouts. He was passing out high-fives and patting guys on the backside. Something's got to work, right?

The Illini are playing bad, plus shots aren't falling. Recipe for disaster.

BU wasn't called for a foul until the 8:26 mark. Illinois had four at that point.

Malcolm Hill's two free throws and outback bucket stopped an 18-2 BU run. Hill let out a scream afterward, the most emotion I've seen from him.

Joseph Bertrand has been called for two offensive fouls.

When the replay of Jon Ekey's fall was shown here, there was an audible gasp.

By the way, Rayvonte Rice now has more than 1,500 points for his career. He needed five coming in.

Illinois shot 40.9 percent (9 for 22) in the half and 2 for 8 (25 percent) from three in the half and hit all four free throws.

A BU fan reminded them over and over "You guys suck!" going into the locker room.

Boston U shot 40.7 percent (11 for 27) from the floor but 7 for 15 (46.7 percent) from long range to enter the locker room with the lead. BU led by as many as 17.

BU was led by D.J. Irving's eight points. John Papale, Dom Morris and Cedric Hankerson each had six.

Illinois was led by Rice's eight points and Hill's seven.

The Illini won the rebounding battle 15-14, led by Rice's six. They turned it over eight times, leading to 14 BU points.

They caused on three turnovers.

No. 7 Boston U 16, No. 2 Illinois 9 — 11:27 first half

Illinois not playing well, John Groce not happy. He called a timeout at the 12-minute mark and read them the riot act in the huddle.

This Illinois crowd is ready to erupt, but the team isn't helping matters.

Groce went nuts again, looks like on Rayvonte Rice, going into the under-12 timeout. He's as hot as he's been in a long time.

After a real sluggish start, Boston U has seemed to regain its moo. They're playing with a lot more confidence at both ends.

Someone on Twitter asked me today if Malcolm Hill was a good shooter. He was the first person here to make a shot tonight, hitting a three-pointer three minutes in. He's been shooting it fairly well lately.

BU, meanwhile, started 0 for 6. 

Don't think John Groce was overly thrilled with Tracy Abrams' start to this one. The Illinois PG was lifted at the first media timeout in favor of Jaylon Tate. At the time, Abrams was 0 for 1 with an assist and a turnover.

Rayvonte Rice and Joseph Bertrand each had strong drives and finished them early. I think Illinois can get that all night if it wants. No need to settle for jumpers.

Immediately after Bertrand's drive and score, the Terriers went into a zone and forced a turnover.

John Papale has a heater and a quick release.

Maurice Watson stole the opening tap from Illinois and nearly scored off it. I haven't seen that in a while.

No. 2 Illinois (19-14) at No. 7 Boston University (24-10) — Tipoff (ESPN2)

10 percent of this building is full and 90 percent of the people here are wearing orange. Big I-L-L, I-N-I chant here.

There are mire BU cheerleaders and dancers here than regular students.

The pep band breezed right through that National Anthem.

There was some confusion early, the sheet BU handed out prior to the game listed Jaylon Tate as a starter. But Illinois will start Tracy Abrams, Kendrick Nunn, Rayvonte Rice, Malcolm Hill and Nnanna Egwu.

BU is going with Maurice Watson, D.J. Irving, John Papale, Nathan Dieudonne and Dom Morris.

Just saw a Boston University band member in the restroom touching up the paw print makeup on his face. 

There's an Illinois fan sitting right behind me wearing all orange. He high-fived every player as they headed to the locker room at the end of the pregame warmup. His name is Ross, he grew up in the Evanston area and went to school at Northeastern. His family has Illinois season tickets in football and hoops.

We're up to maybe two dozen students in the student section now.

No. 2 Illinois (19-14) at No. 7 Boston University (24-10) — 6 p.m. (ESPN2)

It's cold in here, you always know when you're inside a hockey arena.

BU isn't used to playing games on national television. I overheard the security personnel talking about their assignments tonight before the game and the supervisor informed whomever for the spots on the floorthey might be on ESPN. They all got pretty excited about that opportunity.

Just talked with Jerry Hester about playing in the NIT. The Illini did it when he was in school, losing to Alabama. That team wanted to be in the NCAA tournament, so they weren't very motivated. He said this team has known for a while it wouldn't be in the NCAAs and wants to be here. That makes a big difference.

I'm told tickets in the main seats are going for $14, that's the equivalent of where A section is in State Farm Center. To sit in the fancy leather seats right on the court is going to set you back $30. 

Pretty decent media turnout here in Boston covering the Illini. Teddy Greenstein from the Chicago Tribune is here. So are Aaron Bennett from WCIA and Rob McColley from Smile Politely.

I've seen representatives from the Boston Herald and the Boston Globe here covering the Terriers.

There are now some band members and a dozen members of the student section here.

There are by far more Illini fans here now than BU fans.

Mike Thomas and Jason Lener just photo-bombed the Illinois radio crew.

I spy an Illini fan with a throwback Frank Williams jersey on.

The music here has been outstanding. Mostly hip-hop.

No. 2 Illinois (19-14) at No. 7 Boston University (24-10) — 6 p.m. (ESPN2)

Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas made the trip here with the team. We're still waiting to hear when a potential second-round game would be played at Clemson. 

We were talking about the possibility of hockey being played at State Farm Center and Thomas said with the ice surface being roughly twice as big as the basketball court, there would basically be a C section of seats and nothing else.

Sean McDonough joined us on the presume show. The SPN play-by-play man lives about 6 miles from the Boston U campus. He told us, as you likely already know, this is a big-time pro sports town, so the Terriers get very little local love. And with so many colleges and universities within a few miles, BU doesn't attract a lot of attention. Boston College is about a mile away and Northeastern is just up the road, too. Don't forget about Harvard.

Mike LaTulip was the first Illinois player on the court tonight. Mike was getting up some extra shots. The rest of the Illini came out pretty much as a group a few minutes later.

Illinois is wearing its blue road uniforms tonight. Boston is going with the home white.

Dave Brown, the BU play-by-play man reminded us that the Terriers haven't lost back-to-back games in about three months. They dropped three in a row to Harvard, George Washington and Norfolk State from Dec. 7-15. Their thing has been bouncing back all season, Brown said.

BU lost the last time out in the conference tournament title game. Whether they've recovered from that disappointment, we'll find out early tonight. "It's a matter of want-to," Brown said.

Illinois certainly wants to be here. They were fired up to get back on the floor after that loss to Michigan at the Big ten tournament. The practices leading up to this game, according to the players, have been spirited.

"Our practices have been good, a lot of energy, people really playing hard and I think we really enjoy the opportunity to keep playing; no one wants to be at home right now watching postseason basketball and getting ready for spring workouts," Nnanna Egwu said. 

These guys also feel like they're playing at a high enough level where they would have been able to compete in the NCAA tournament.

"Getting a 2 seed put into perspective how close we were to getting to the NCAA tournament. But it's a great opportunity to keep playing and showing how good we really are," Egwu said. "We're playing real well, we keep getting better every day and for us to stop right now would be kind of disappointing so it's really good for us to keep on playing, keep that momentum going."

No. 2 Illinois (19-14) at No. 7 Boston University (24-10) — 6 p.m. (ESPN2)

Good evening from Harry Agganis Arena here at BU for Illinois' first NIT game in our years. And just like four years ago, the Illini are on the road. Last time there was a concert at the Assembly Hall. This time, State Farm Center, the former Assembly Hall, is undergoing renovations and cannot host. This gym is bigger than Stony Brook's 4,000-seat plus arena where the Illini opened in 2010.

We're right on the west edge of the BU campus, then train drops you off right in front of the building. I had quite the adventure today trying to get down here. I got on the wrong train about three times before I finally figured it out. I asked for help once and got some unclear advice. I finally asked another guy and he was very clear and helpful.

I had lunch a few feet away from here today and I overheard two guys talking about tonight's game. The younger gentleman, likely a student, explained to the much older gentleman why the game was being played here in Bostonese. The younger guy was wearing a Bruins hat.

Also during lunch a guy walked by wearing a Yale letterman-looking jacket. Hope he doesn't get anywhere near the Harvard campus. 

I also spotted a few Illinois fans walking around campus. I'll have to ask the Boston SID what the crowd is expected to be like here tonight. They averaged 962 per game this season at home and had 2,600 or so for the conference title game here. Speaking with Boston U reps this week, they were stunned to be hosting, it wasn't even on their radar, knowing they'd be a low seed. They scrambled and are making it happen.

So why isn't this game being played at Illinois State, the United Center, Springfield, or anywhere else within the state borders? We addressed that in the chat earlier today. The short answer: because it can't. Plus, Illinois State is hosting a CBI game tonight.

This is primarily a hockey arena. All the banners hanging from the rafters are hockey banners. the building is named for Harry Agganis, a former football and baseball star here for the Terriers. His banner calls him the Golden Greek. Agganis was the quarterback here. He went on to play for the Red Sox.

Some BU players were on the court getting up some very early shots when I got here. John Papale and Maurice Watson among them.

I'm jumping on the radio now with Steve Kelly. Be back soon.

 

 

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