Clemson ends Illinois' NIT run

CLEMSON, S.C. — His long 3-pointer right of the basket, hitting nothing but air and hardwood, Tracy Abrams fell to the floor in despair. The Illinois junior guard’s desperation shot went wide, a fitting coda for a difficult end to the Illini’s season.

Illinois made just 3 of 21 3-pointers, and Clemson held on for a 50-49 victory before a raucous Littlejohn Coliseum crowd of 10,000 in the NIT second round Sunday afternoon.

Illinois’ season ended at 20-15, and Clemson improved to 22-12. The Tigers will face Belmont here Tuesday night in the NIT quarterfinals.

“We wanted to try to get to New York City (for the NIT semifinals),” Illinois coach John Groce said. “It didn’t happen, but it wasn’t because of effort. It wasn’t because of fight.”

Down 28-19 following a cold-shooting first half, Illinois rallied behind junior guard Rayvonte Rice, who scored 13 of his game-high 15 points in the second half.

The Illini tied the game at 35 with 10 minutes, 32 seconds remaining. Senior forward Jon Ekey’s third 3-pointer of the game gave Illinois its first lead, 49-48, with 2:05 left. But those were its final points of the game.

With 9.3 seconds left, Clemson junior guard Rod Hall drove the right side of the lane and made a tough layup, giving the Tigers a 50-49 edge.

“They gave me a big outlet and I got it in my right hand and made a good layup,” Hall said.

Illinois had no timeouts left but Clemson called one, allowing a setup for a final shot. Rice and Ekey were covered, so Rice drove right and pitched to Abrams at the top of the key. He air-balled the shot with 1.7 seconds left.

Groce said Abrams’ shot “was not” what he wanted, but added “he’s made a lot of big plays for us.”

Groce lauded his team’s mettle in rebounding from an eight-game losing streak that stretched from January into February, saying “five, six weeks ago, I don’t think we’d be sitting here.”

It still wasn’t enough to extend the careers of Ekey and fellow senior guard Joseph Bertrand.

“Walking off the court, it hurt losing,” Ekey said. “but when we got to the tunnel afterward it hit me that I wouldn’t be on a college court again, playing.”

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Interactive NCAA bracket

    Interactive NCAA bracket

  • Chicago beekeepers find mystery, meditation and honey at their hives

    Chicago beekeepers find mystery, meditation and honey at their hives

    You never know what you might find on a Chicago rooftop—a classy lounge, a chill patio, a collection of lawn chairs. But from the Loop to the neighborhoods, there are a few rooftops that are home to a different kind of buzz—the literal buzz of hundreds of thousands of honeybees.

  • Genealogy gold mine: Millions of wills now online

    Genealogy gold mine: Millions of wills now online

    Thousands of amateur genealogists who fantasize about being left a fortune by a distant relative can now get a reality check. Starting Wednesday, upward of 100 million wills written over the last three centuries will be posted to, the popular genealogical search engine.

  • Northerly Island Park opens Friday on Chicago lakefront

    Northerly Island Park opens Friday on Chicago lakefront

    Twelve years after former Mayor Richard M. Daley's "midnight raid" that shut down the small lakefront airstrip called Meigs Field, a new park will open Friday on the southern portion of what is now called Northerly Island, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Tuesday.

  • American recalls French train attack on Jimmy Fallon show

    American recalls French train attack on Jimmy Fallon show

    A California man who was one of three Americans who helped subdue a gunman on a high-speed train traveling to Paris says he couldn't have picked better people to be with that day.

  • Historic Gold Coast rowhouse for $1.375M

    Historic Gold Coast rowhouse for $1.375M

    855 N. Dearborn, Chicago $1,375,000 Listed on May 13, 2015 This historic three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath rowhouse is in the heart of Chicago's Gold Coast neighborhood. The three-story home has three decks, including a rooftop deck. The home also features hardwood flooring, central air conditioning...