Illinois dropped its third Big Ten game of the season Tuesday night, but the bigger loss almost came midway through the second half.
As No. 3 Purdue stormed past the No. 13 Illini after the break — en route to a 84-68 win — Trent Frazier went down with a knee injury.
The Illini’s superstar super-senior hobbled off the court, rejecting most of the help that was offered his way. He heroically returned just five minutes later, but his return wasn’t enough to stop an already double-digit deficit, sparked by the Boilermakers’ 14 points in the second half’s first two minutes.
But for a majority of the night, Illinois and Purdue showed why this is one of the conference’s best rivalries of 2022.
The crowd was expectedly electric, with jeers, cheers, and screams booming throughout West Lafayatte. Beyond the recruiting victories, Big Ten titles, and national relevancy, Brad Underwood has elevated an Illinois program to universal respect among conference rivals.
Members of Orange Krush executed a perfect sneak attack, wearing black shirts before revealing Illinois orange after the first basket. It’s moments like these that just don’t happen unless your program has national title hopes.
Simply put, we are witnessing greatness.
Part of that greatness involved the mammoth matchup of Kofi Cockburn and Zach Edey, who started the game with combining for the night’s first six points.
Illinois led throughout the first half on the back of Cockburn’s 6 points and 3 rebounds. However, the Boilermakers’ depth frustrated Illinois midway through the first, and took the lead 26-21 with 7 minutes left in the half on the back of a 14-0 run. In spite of the atmosphere, Underwood leaned on his freshmen significantly, with both RJ Melendez and Luke Goode checking in before the first media timeout.
Lack of rebounding and free throw shooting hurt Illinois late in the first half, as the Illini watched their lead dissolve during a cool 4-for-11 stretch from the field.
When Illinois needed life, Alfonso Plummer brought the defibrillator. Back-to-back threes by the marksman brought the game to even despite the Boilermaker’s dominance. Add in a buzzer-beating layup by Andre Curbelo, and Underwood’s crew, remarkably, took the lead to end the half, 38-36.
But like a heavyweight bout, for every blow Illinois threw at Purdue, Matt Painter’s crew responded with a devastating uppercut. Unlike a title fight, it took more than one to earn the title of Big Ten’s best. Role players like Eric Hunter Jr., Melendez, Ethan Morton, and Plummer all contributed to the spirited back-and-forth contest, but the Boilers’ offense was able to keep up late for a show-stopping win.
TWEET OF THE GAME
God bless these kids, and god bless the Illinois Fighting Illini.
GOD BLESS THESE KIDS https://t.co/rXObm06I3T— Curbelo Your Enthusiasm (@WhityRemarks) February 9, 2022
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
This is that old man energy.
Not today, son.
Illinois returns home this weekend for its only game in Champaign over a five-game stretch.
The Illini are set to tip off against Northwestern at 1 p.m. Sunday.