CHAMPAIGN — The ball hasn’t been bouncing Illinois’ way in games against in-state foes this season.
The Illini, who lost earlier this season to Bradley, dropped a 69-68 heartbreaker against Illinois State on Friday night when Alexis Smith’s last-second three-point attempt clanged off the rim at the Assembly Hall. UI senior Karisma Penn, who had a game-high-tying 22 points, also missed two key free throws down the stretch.
“I felt like we did the right things to get the lead in the second half and to go up eight and really have the opportunity to put them away, then we just struggled to get stops, Illinois coach Matt Bollant said. “We’ve been talking about defense a lot, trying to get better in practice, and I think just a couple of stops in the second half would’ve made the difference for us, but we just weren’t able to get it done. Credit Illinois State, (Candace) Sykes was really good and hit some big threes for them to get them back in the game.”
The Redbirds, who led 34-29 at halftime, received a game-high-tying 22 points from Sykes, and Penn was up to the challenge, too.
“I thought KP (Penn) stepped up and played a great second half for us. I challenged her afterward to do that each half. She made a lot of plays when it mattered in the second half, and we just need more players to be able to do that.”
Bollant said he would prefer a more balanced offense.
“Amber (Moore) didn’t get a shot in the second half, Kersten (Magrum) didn’t make a shot, and we need those two juniors to lead as well. Hopefully, getting Adrienne (GodBold) back will make a world of difference for us, but we’re disappointed tonight. We go away for Christmas break frustrated that we didn’t pull this one off.”