Bench leads Illinois past Rutgers 75-62
By MATT SUGAM
Feb. 25, 2018
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — While the Illinois coaching staff knew who they could potentially play in the Big Ten Tournament so some advance scouting could be done, the players weren't.
They were, however, well aware that they were playing to stay out of the basement of the Big Ten.
"That was definitely motivation coming in to this game," Aaron Jordan said. "As for the seeding, we'll focus on that after the game."
Michael Finke and Jordan came off the bench to combine for 34 points and lead Illinois past Rutgers 75-62 on Sunday.
"That's always important," Jordan said of the team's bench play. "Guys starting off, they have good energy, so it's really important for us to carry that on, so we can build the lead or get back in games so we can extend the energy out."
Deshawn Freeman blocked a shot by Trent Frazier and then assisted Eugene Omoruyi (14 points) on a fast-break layup to give Rutgers (13-18, 3-15 Big Ten) a 36-35 lead.
However, Frazier answered with a 3-pointer as Illinois (14-17, 4-14) retook a lead they would never surrender, building it to as much as 15.
Illinois led 15-9 after Mark Alstork made a layup midway through the first half. While Rutgers was able to overcome the early deficit and trade leads, Illinois was able to go ahead by seven before taking a 35-30 lead into half.
"They made shots. They made their free throws. That's a team that defends," Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. "We got a couple good looks but we didn't capitalize. We didn't make free throws when we need to. They played really good defense and they made some big shots."
Corey Sanders scored 18 points, six rebounds and four assists for Rutgers.
Leron Black added 14 points for Illinois.
"We put Leron back in in the second half and his two pick-and-pop 3s took what was really a close game in that five-to-six range and broke it open," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. "Onto the Big Ten Tournament and we'll find out who we'll play tonight. Maybe it's these guys again."
Illinois: The Fighting Illini secured the No. 12 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. A solid start for a first-year coach.
Rutgers: Picked to finish last in the Big Ten for the fourth year in a row, the Scarlet Knights only had three Big Ten wins. That leaves them at the bottom of the conference along with Iowa as second-year coach Steve Pikiell tries to rebuild the downtrodden program.
Illinois: Will take on either Rutgers or Iowa in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.
Rutgers: Will take on Illinois or Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.
SENIORS HONORED BUT SA OUT
Rutgers honored its four seniors, with Freeman, Mike Williams and walk-on Jake Dadika getting starts, but Candido Sa was out after injuring his shoulder at the end of practice yesterday.
Pikiell said it was too early to tell if Sa would be available to return for the Big Ten Tournament.
NO REST FOR THE WEARY
Illinois wrapped up a stint of playing four games in eight days. They will stay in the area for the tournament this week.