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LIVE from Clemson

No. 3 Clemson 50, No. 2 Illinois 49 — FINAL

CLEMSON, S.C. — Rod Hall's layup with 9.3 second left gave the Tigers a one-point lead and Illinois missed a three-pointer in the closing seconds sending the third-seeded Tigers to a win in a second-round NIT game on Sunday at a sold-out Littlejohn Coliseum.

Rayvonte Rice scored a game-high 15 points to lead the Illini (20-15). Jon Ekey added 11 points in the final game of his collegiate career. Fellow senior Joseph Bertrand, who turned 23 on Sunday, scored four points on 2 of 3 shooting.

Illinois shot 3 for 21 from three-point range (14 percent) and started 1 for 17 before Ekey made two late.

Clemson, which will host fifth-seeded Belmont on Tuesday, got 12 points from K.J. McDaniels and 11 from Landry Nnoko.

More later on HQ.

No. 3 Clemson 35, No. 2 Illinois 28 — 11:59 second half

Groce and the Illini coaches got a warning from the officials. Nnanna Egwu was thrown to the ground but he was also called for a foul. The coaching staff hated the call and had the officials review the play toes if Nnanna was elbowed. Nothing came of it other than the bench warning and Egwu's third foul.

There are some fans sitting behind the scorer's table who are all over Groce and his staff.

The coaching staff also not happy with the fact that the Illini aren't getting any foul calls on contact going to the bucket. They've voiced their displeasure a number of times. The Tigers have been called for five fouls the whole game.

But again, Illinois has had plenty of offensive opportunities, just not cashing enough of them in. Clemson has blocked some shots, but this isn't all about the Tigers' defense. Illinois just isn't making enough shots.

When Egwu is out of the game, the Illini are going with a smaller lineup. Maverick Morgan and Austin Colbert both got some minutes in the first half, but that didn't go so well.Jon Ekey has been playing a lot of 5.

Illinois missed its first 11 threes of the game before Jon Ekey connected. The Illini are 1 for 13. At least two by Malcolm Hill have rattled in and out.

I made the comment on Twitter at the half that Illinois was also down by nine at the half at Boston U. I've seen replies that this isn't Boston U. It's not. Clemson can't score like those guys and if Illinois cashes in on the easy ones, it should have a chance to win.

At the start of the second half, some fans here in the upper reaches of Littlejohn Coliseum tried to get the wave started. It didn't work.

No. 3 Clemson 28, No. 2 Illinois 19 — Halftime

Tracy Abrams was looking for a goaltending call on that last shot he had blocked. The official told him it was still on the way up.

Rayvonte Rice's mom Rhonda is behind the Illinois bench. She's been very vocal, maybe more than usual. She has fun.

Again, Malcolm Hill really good at the shot fake. He got a Clemson defender in the air on a corner three and got all the way to the bucket for an easy finish.

Austin Colbert got some early run for the Illini. Clemson promptly hit a three from the top of the key. Hard to tell if Colbert was at fault for it. But he and Rice lost track of the shot clock on the other end and it turned into a violation.

At the under-8 timeout, the PA announcer said we were at capacity, but people were still needing help getting into the empty seats scattered about.

So people here at Clemson are upset at Jameis Winston. The FSU football/baseball star tweeted photos of the Clemson football and baseball stadiums and said "Our house." Clemson folks didn't appreciate it and says Jameis is disrespecting the people the venues are named after and the people who sacrificed on those fields. It's a major topic of conversation here on press row.

I ain't mad at you, Jameis.

Illinois is shooting 33 percent (8 for 24) from the floor and 0 for 9 from three (that's 0 percent). Nnanna Egwu's six points leads the way. Abrams has four.

Clemson is shooting 55 percent (11 for 20) from the field and 29 percent (2 for 7) from three.

Jordan Roper has 10 points to lead the way. K.J. McDaniels has four points and has blocked three shots.

The Tigers have turned it over eight times and Illinois has nine points off those. Quite frankly, they should have at least double that. The Illini have had great looks and chances off the Clemson miscues.

They've turned it over themselves six times.

Clemson leads in rebounding 15-10. The only offensive rebound of the game belongs to the Illini and they didn't score off of it.

No. 3 Clemson 13, No. 2 Illinois 10 — 11:18 first half

Not only is this a big crowd, but it's a good one, too. They're cheering for everything, plus standing ovations going into timeouts. Might be one of the top three crowds at any venue I've seen this season. Nebraska would be up there, too.

Good for the Clemson folks, because this hasn't been a particularly entertaining game.

Illinois is shooting 36 percent (4 for 11). The Tigers hit 3 of their first 4 and have fallen back to 63 percent (5 for 8).

The lineup of Tate, Nunn, Bertrand, Ekey and Egwu did some nice things on the offensive end. Egwu and Tate really play well with one another. Tate hit Nnanna with a couple of really nice passes going toward the bucket.

But then they gave up a transition dunk and Groce called timeout. He was getting on Tate about something.

The P.A. announcer here has a lot of energy, he excitedly introduced Illinois today.

The early runner from Kendrick Nunn is a good sign. He really struggled the other night.

Illinois' first shot of the game was blocked. Clemson averages six of those per game.

Malcolm Hill got the early defensive assignment on K.J. McDaniels, Clemson's best player.

The Dick Van Dyke lookalike isn't Dick Van Dyke, I don't think.

The PA announcer just asked that people squeeze in as people are still entering the building looking for seats.

No. 2 Illinois (20-14) at No. 3 Clemson (21-12) — Tipoff (ESPN)

It's the same starting lineup for the Illini: Tracy Abrams, Kendrick Nunn, Rayvonte Rice, Malcolm Hill and Nnanna Egwu.

Clemson goes with Rod Hall, Jordan Roper, Damarcus Harrison, K.J. McDaniels and Landy Nnoko.

Apparently they normally turn down the lights for the starting lineup introductions, but they can't today for some reason. The fans booed that announcement.

There's  a lot of seat-saving going on. People are holding seats for their friends who are late to the arena. I'm stunned there are this many people here. Spring break on a Sunday for an NIT basketball game at Clemson didn't scream great atmosphere. There will be that here today.

By the way, Joseph Bertrand is celebrating his 23rd birthday today. It's is  his golden birthday. Perhaps it will be golden for him and the Illini.

Illinois is wearing its road blues. The Tigers are going with the home Sunday whites.

Fletcher Page and Taylor Rooks are here from Scout.com. Bret Beherns from WCIA is here, as well as Rob McColley. The Chicago Tribune hired a stringer to cover today's game.

If Illinois wins, the quarterfinal game at Belmont will be played on Tuesday evening.

Pregame they played "Type of Way" which became the anthem of the Michigan State football team this season. Rich Homie Quan, the artist of the song, was a guest of Mark Dantonio at the Rose Bowl and he celebrated with the team.

A man appeared on the video board looking a lot like Dick Van Dyke. Can't be sure that it is him, though.

No. 2 Illinois (20-14) at No. 3 Clemson (21-12) — 10 a.m. (ESPN)

Fletcher Page, who made the drive with me, along with Taylor Rooks, noticed that Clemson hangs banners here for each NCAA tournament appearance. "I'm against hanging banners for NCAA berths," Page said. They've got 11 of those banners around the gym. Some purple, some orange.

They've also got a big banner in one corner honoring the great Tree Rollins and another one honoring Dale Davis.

Page, Rooks and I made the 10-hour, 670-mile trip from Champaign. It was actually a pretty enjoyable ride, didn't seem like 10 hours.

They opened the doors here about 90 minutes before tipoff and people rushed to their seats. Tickets were $10 for adults and seating is general, so the people got here early and made sure to secure some prime seats.

Lots of orange in this building. Most of it is for Clemson, but there are some Illini fans here, too.

As the Illinois big men were going through their presume warmup, a woman behind me said "Oooh, they've got some really good shooters." She was impressed with the way Nnanna Egwu, Maverick Morgan and Jon Ekey shot the ball. Illinois is going to have to make some jumpers in order to put points on the scoreboard today with all the shot blockers the Tigers have.

As the Illinois players huddled before heading back to the locker room a few minutes ago, they received a pretty decent round of applause. There are plenty of Illini fans hidden in this sea of orange. I've seen some Nathan Scheelhaase jerseys, some Illinois baseball jerseys and some Orange Krush shirts.

No. 2 Illinois (20-14) at No. 3 Clemson (21-12) — 10 a.m. (ESPN)

Wasn't sure what kind of crowd to expect here today. Still not sure, but there were close to 100 folks lined up outside the doors about two hours before tip waiting for the doors to open here at Littlejohn Coliseum. At the student entrance, there were about 15 guys standing outside waiting to get in.

I'm told they've sold 4,000 tickets. They had 3,800 here the other night for the NIT opener. 

Last week was spring break here at Clemson, so most students probably aren't going to be making it back to town until later on today. Speaking of which, most of the establishments here in town were closed last night, hard to find a place to drink beer and grab some food. The places that were open closed at midnight (EDT). That's 11 p.m. Central Time. Last call was at 11:45 p.m. That just didn't seem right. I'm told it's because Sunday begins at midnight and liquor can't be sold on Sundays.

The last time Illinois played here was 2009 when the Illini rallied from  a23-point deficit to win in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Brandon Paul, a freshman at the time, went off in the second half for the Illini.

Paul Klee covered that game for The News-Gazette. He says it was the most memorable game he covered of Illinois.  The secret weapon, he says, was Illini golf coach Mike Small, who predicted a comeback at halftime. 

Klee says former Illinois assistant Jerrance Howard hugged a bunch of people while walking off the court. They were all wearing orange and he thought they were Illinois fans. They were not. Clemson folks wear orange, too.

Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas is once again on the trip. He was in Peoria on Friday night with John Groce, watching Jalen Brunson play in the Class 4A state semifinals against Whitney Young. You might have heard, but Brunson dropped 56 against the Dolphins in a loss. Jahlil Okafor had 33 and 14 in that game. Unfortunately the story has been all about an image that began circulating of Brunson appearing to flip off the Whitney Young fans.

Kirk Wessler had a good column about it today in the Peoria Journal Star.

No. 2 Illinois (20-14) at No. 3 Clemson (21-12) — 10 a.m. (ESPN)

Good morning from the warm South. Unfortunately this game has to be played indoors today because I'd be completely OK with it being played on an outdoor court, so long as it doesn't rain. It was in the 70s yesterday. The Illinois team conducted a walkthrough in the parking lot of their team hotel.

Went to the baseball game last night between Clemson and Florida State just a few feet away at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. It was a beautiful night. Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston pitched the final 2-1/3 innings for the Seminoles, facing the minimum to pick up the save. He was throwing 95, I think he touched 96 once. Very gifted young man.

The Clemson fans, there were 6,000 people there last night, booed Winston ferociously when he entered the game, but they were snapping photos of just about every pitch he threw.

Anyway, on to basketball. Hard to get a feel for this one. Clemson has a stud in K.J. McDaniels. The junior can do it all. He's a matchup nightmare. I'd anticipate seeing Rayvonte Rice on him to start the game, but it's going to take multiple guys to keep this guy in check.

I'm staying at the same hotel as the Illini. Ran into some members of their travel party last night and they all say the team is feeling good, ready to get on the court this morning. They cannot afford a start to tonight's game like they had Wednesday at Boston University, getting down by 17. Clemson is too good a defensive team to come back from that.

"You have to be ready. You have to be ready to play a 40-minute basketball game in any postseason tournament," Illinois coach John Groce said. "I think the NCAA tournament shows that. I think the NIT shows that."

Groce, assistant Dustin Ford and Mike LaTulip were having breakfast together at the hotel at about 7 a.m.

Illinois will also need a better showing today from Kendrick Nunn, the freshman who scored just two points in Wednesday's win at Boston University.

"Kendrick wasn't real good the other night, he knows that," Groce said.

My bold prediction, Nunn gets it going today.

I'm going to get settled in here and jump on the radio with Steve Kelly for the presume show.

I'll be back soon. We'll talk about the last time Illinois played here and more in a few.

Comments

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smartines wrote on March 23, 2014 at 12:03 pm

Groce should have left Tate in longer.  Abrams was a disaster today.  While Tate can't shoot, neither could Abrams today but at least Tate was making some real nice assists when he was in.  Abrams was making bad decisions all game.  The point guard position is a major problem.  They should move Nunn to Point.  This team is going to have problems scoring again next season with Abrams at guard and Egwu insisting on taking jump shots that he misses 90% of the time.   

griff507 wrote on March 23, 2014 at 8:03 pm

While I totally agree about Abrams, Nunn would be a worse. Nunn needs to work on his handle a bunch. Tate makes some really bad freshman mistakes, but Abrams makes even worse mistakes. I can't believe that Groce called the last shot for Abrams, after all the only thing he could throw in the ocean today was a lay up. He missed 4 more of those great "floater 3' finger roll" shots today, just like the one he missed against Michigan.

The good thing is there are two guys that had to sit out this year, who can come in and take a lot of his point duties. After all, when Weber recruited Abrams, he recruited him as a 2 guard. Meaning a shooting guard. I personally have never seen him show that he has the touch to be a shooting guard, but I guess Weber did.

Looking forward to next season!

GO ILLINI!

DaisyJ wrote on March 23, 2014 at 5:03 pm

Tracy Abrams does not belong out there. We should have figured this out long ago.

Rice still does not know how to pass to others. Abrams man beat him easy for the game winner. He was 2 for 14,,. If Groce could not see this today, then do not expect Abrams to stop making mistakes either.