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Some teams will just have your number

Tuesday’s performance was rare, but it’s not time to panic.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Purdue Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

The sequel is almost never better than the original. Truth be told, the sequel is usually not even on par with the original. The Illinois Fighting Illini & Purdue Boilermakers played an instant classic three weeks ago, and the rematch initially looked like we’d be watching an encore performance.

The Illini looked very crisp early on and were able to fluster Boilermaker big man Zach Edey, coaxing the 7-foot-4 center into two early fouls. The opening half showed what is so captivating — and frustrating — about Brad Underwood’s teams; a 21-12 Illinois lead turned into a 26-21 Illinois defecit following a 14-0 Purdue run. A 10-2 spurt gave the Fighting Illini a 38-36 edge entering the locker room.

Purdue absolutely scorched the nets in the second half. The Boilermakers scored 16 points by the first media timeout. The Boilermakers surpassed their first half total by the under-8 timeout. And as we have seen time and time again, the Illini went on an extreme scoring drought at the same time Purdue was hitting everything.

A Big Ten regular season title is now in serious peril. The Fighting Illini are currently tied with these Boilermakers and the Wisconsin Badgers at 10-3 in conference play. If the standings hold, the best Illinois can hope for is a share since Purdue holds the head-to-head edge.

What Did We Learn?

We learned that Purdue — an engineering school — doesn’t know how shot clocks work.

All kidding aside, there’s one thing that is quite clear with the Fighting Illini: they are utterly undeterred playing in front of hostile crowds.

Since 2019-20, Illinois has won 18 regular-season conference road games. EIGHTEEN. The Illini played well Tuesday night despite their second-half shooting slump — there hasn’t been much of a dropoff when playing away from State Farm Center, which suggests to me that we shouldn’t panic too much yet. Tuesday just wasn’t the Illini’s night. In a rough-and-tumble Big Ten, Illinois can compete with anybody.

Illinois needs to regroup quickly, as the suddenly-streaking Northwestern Wildcats visit Champaign on Sunday afternoon.