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Illinois’ comeback not enough against Wisconsin

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Illinois drops another conference game at home.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Illinois hasn’t beaten Wisconsin in over eight years, and the Illini will have to wait at least another month before they get another crack at the Badgers.

The Illini (5-14, 1-7 Big Ten) welcomed Wisconsin (13-6, 5-3) to the State Farm Center on Wednesday evening, looking to beat the Badgers for the first time since January 2011, but it wasn’t enough to end the streak as Illinois fell 72-60.

“I thought our approach tonight was really good,” said Head Coach Brad Underwood. “I thought our gameplan was really good, and I thought that was as good defensively in the first half as we’ve been.”

The Badgers were plagued with the turnover bug in the first half, allowing the Illini to keep the game competitive despite serious shooting woes. Illinois finished the first half going 13-of-36 from the field and 2-of-14 from behind the arc, while Wisconsin connected on eight of its first 10 attempts. Freshman Giorgi Bezhanishvili led the charge for the Illini, racking up 12 first-half points and four rebounds.

But the Georgian wasn’t done just yet. With Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ on the bench due to a combination of turnovers and fouls, Bezhanishvili continued to dazzle Illini fans. He pitched in eight more points in the second half, bringing his total to 20 for the night.

“Ethan Happ is arguably the most valuable player to his team in the country,” Underwood said. “I thought Giorgi’s defense on him was phenomenal.”

The Badgers, though, got a big night out of sophomore Nate Reuvers. The big man posted a double-double of 22 points and 10 boards, including 7-of-11 from the field, 2-of-3 from deep, and 6-of-6 shooting from the line. Wisconsin attempted just 14 threes on the night, but converted on half of them. Pair that with a team shooting 51 percent from the floor, and the Badgers’ offense did just enough to keep the Illini at bay. Illinois had chances down the stretch, but poor free throw shooting (12-of-22 from the line) killed any comeback the Illini had in them.

HE SAID IT

MOMENTS THAT MATTER

  • With 28 seconds left and the ball, Illinois had a chance to break a 30-30 tie heading into the half. Freshman Ayo Dosunmu couldn’t get his three-point attempt to fall, and Wisconsin’s D’Mitrik Trice was able to draw a foul with just 0.1 seconds left before the buzzer. He would make both free throws and give the Badgers a 32-30 advantage heading into the break.
  • Illinois had multiple chances to close the gap down the stretch, but a series of four straight missed free throws (Dosunmu two, Bezhanishvili two) gave Wisconsin just enough room to seal the deal.

SOUND SMART

WHO’S NEXT

The Illini board their charter on Thursday to New York City where they will play Maryland at Madison Square Garden. The Terrapins (16-4, 7-2 Big Ten) enter the contest as the No. 13 team in the country, but are looking to bounce back from a 69-55 loss at Michigan State.

Tipoff is set for 11 a.m. CT on Saturday morning on BTN.

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