Iowa State 84, Illinois 73
Illinois battled for more than 32 minutes against No. 4 Iowa State, but the undefeated Cyclones pulled away from the Illini down the stretch.
The Orange and Blue trailed by just three points with 7:35 remaining in the game, as a layup by Michael Finke made it 65-62. But John Groce's squad struggled to create at the offensive end in crunch time, and they allowed some easy looks for their talented opponent.
Malcolm Hill led the Illini with 20 points, while going 4-of-7 from beyond the arc. Fellow junior Kendrick Nunn also provided 19 points in just his second game of the season. Illini big man Mike Thorne scored in double figures as well with 10 points, but he left the game at the end of the first half with a leg injury and did not return.
On the other side, Georges Niang led the way with a game-high 23 points. Iowa State point guard Monte Morris had 20 points and Abdel Nader had 18 points as well.
The Illini played about as good of a first half as they could have asked for against a top-five team. Illinois shot 48.5 percent from the field and led the rebounding battle 19-16. The Orange and Blue closed out the half on an 8-1 run, which had them down by just one. But they couldn't sustain the battle for 40 minutes.
Leron Black finished with eight points and eight rebounds. Jalen Coleman-Lands and Michael Finke each had five off the bench. But the Illini did not have a reliable third scoring option in the second half with Thorne on the sidelines.
What it means
The Illini received a huge boost by getting Nunn, Tate and Black back in the rotation. This team showed that they can compete with just about anybody when they are at full strength. Illinois is back to being below .500, but they are a far better team after this trip to Florida. The Illini came up short in this one, but they will have another shot at a quality win against Notre Dame on Wednesday.
What went right
The Illini offense kept them neck and neck with Iowa State for a good chunk of this one. Nunn has been able to provide instant offense since returning to action, and he's looked far better than most expected. Hill has been playing at a high level as well. Many Illinois fans wanted to see this team show toughness and come to play against some quality opponents. They did that during the last two days.
What went wrong
The wheels came off the upset train late in the second half. Iowa State went on a 16-2 run after the Illini were within three points with 7:35 left in the game. The Illinois offense failed to execute in crunch time, and they gave up some easy ones at the other end. Ultimately, Hill and Nunn were not able to carry this team the distance against one of the best in the land.
Star of the game
Georges Niang: The senior forward showed why he is a preseason All-American by leading all scorers and making key plays in the second half. Niang's 23 points and eight rebounds are both season-highs for him.
The Illini will host Notre Dame (4-1) in the reopening of the State Farm Center on Dec. 2. The Irish took down Iowa on Friday at the AdvoCare Invitational, and they will match up with Alabama on Sunday. Expect "The Farm" to be rocking for Illinois' season debut in Champaign.