Illinois basketball’s forgettable 2016-17 season has, at long last, come to an end in the NIT Quarterfinals. The No. 2 seed Fighting Illini (20-15) found themselves on the losing end of a 68-58 contest against No. 4 seed Central Florida on Wednesday night, putting an end to their admirable postseason run in the process.
While Illinois was the higher-seeded team, the game was played in Orlando due to a scheduling conflict at the State Farm Center.
UCF didn’t play a particularly great game, but it was clear from the very beginning that Illinois was going to struggle. We’ve become accustomed to some questionable offensive decision making over the past five years, however the hesitancy in this contest was perhaps the worst it’s ever been. The mere presence of 7-foot-6 big man Tacko Fall completely decimated Illinois’ ball penetration and driving ability, meaning the guards were consistently settling for terrible jumpers.
Illinois had only 19 points in the first half, which included a laughable two field goals from inside the three-point arc.
Interim coach Jamall Walker made a few halftime adjustments to get some better looks (i.e. telling his players to actually attack the basket), however the Knights’ hot shooting continually prevented Illinois from putting any runs together.
Per usual, though, Malcolm Hill played his damn heart out until the very end. The senior guard pulled Illinois to within six points with 3:50 remaining in the game, and they remained within striking distance until the final whistle. Hill finished his college career with 29 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals on 9-18 shooting from the field.
Sophomore guard B.J. Taylor led the way for the Knights with 17 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists on a 5-14 shooting night.