No. 25 Florida State 72, Illinois 61
The Illini battled with energy and effort after a Thanksgiving Day stomping, but that wasn't enough with a stalled offense and not enough stops down the stretch against No. 25 Florida State (4-1), who came away with a 72-61 victory on Friday.
Illinois (4-3) led 44-42 with 11:55 to go after a bucket by Te'Jon Lucas. But Florida State responded with a 9-0 run and they had a 24-7 run overall until the 3:40 mark -- making it 66-51. It was pretty much over at that point.
Illinois went just 4-of-15 from the field in the last 10 minutes, and two of those baskets came with less than a minute to go. Meanwhile, Florida State hit eight straight field goals starting at the 10-minute mark.
The Illini shot just 32.8 percent from the field. They went 5-of-22 from three, while hitting just one of their final 15 attempts.
Malcolm Hill led Illinois with 18 points (6-13) and eight rebounds. Leron Black added 15 points and 11 rebounds off the bench, and Te'Jon Lucas also had 10 points, four assists and only one turnover.
On the other side, Florida State shot 48.1 percent from the field and 60 percent from deep. They hit nine threes on the game. The Seminoles had four players score in double figures with Dwayne Bacon leading the way with 17 points.
What it means
Illinois had three chances to put a quality win on their resume this week, and they went 0-for-3. That's not the way to start an NCAA tournament campaign. Not for the oldest team in the Big Ten. Not for a team that has no injuries and no excuses. The Illini will have more opportunities coming up with no break in the schedule. A talented N.C. State team comes to Champaign on Tuesday, and then Illinois will travel to Miami for a neutral-site battle against VCU. BYU awaits later next month as well. The Illini will need to win a high percentage of those games. Heading into conference play with four or five losses puts you in a deep hole. If it's more than that, it's going to get really ugly.
What went right
Hill got back on track. After starting 1-of-7 from the field, Hill got into an offensive rhythm. He hit five of his final six shots. Illinois' best player didn't look the part after halftime against Winthrop or in Thursday's drubbing against West Virginia. Despite the outcome, Illinois will need Hill to carry this momentum into next week -- with more challenging opponents on the docket.
Lucas PLAYED, and he did well. Illinois fans' cries for help were answered. The freshman point guard had 10 points and four assists in 18 minutes. He had the best plus/minus (+5) of anyone on the Illini roster. Hill was the only other player in the positive range. Lucas showed that he deserves more love from the coaching staff. John Groce talks about Jaylon Tate making Illinois "connected", "experienced", or whatever other buzz word he wants to use. Lucas is just better.
'Boogie' is back. In a physical game, Black showed what he brings to this Illini team. He battled on the glass with a game-high 11 rebounds. He got to the free-throw line. He hit a couple of mid-range jumpers.
What went wrong
Getting stops late. You don't win games if you don't get stops. Allowing your opponent to shoot 53.8 percent in the second half doesn't cut it. Florida State missed just 12 shots in the second half, and they got seven of them back on the offensive glass.
Defending the three. Illinois did a relatively better job at preventing drives to the hoop. That's not a high bar for improvement, but they did it. What they didn't do was guard the three-point line.
Offensive identity. Just as it did late against Winthrop, the Illini offense lacked clear direction and execution late in the second half in this game. Who are the Illini at the end of the floor? What can they hang their hat on? Illinois still doesn't have much of an established identity. Do they want to throw it inside? Do they want to shoot threes? Do they want to play isolation ball with Hill?
Tracy Abrams and Jaylon Tate were bad. The veteran point guards combined to go 1-of-8 from the field with three assists and four turnovers. Abrams had consecutive turns during Illinois' offensive collapse. He was -18 on the game. Tate was -10.
Jalen Coleman-Lands couldn't help. The sophomore sniper had just two points, as he went 0-of-8 from the field and 0-of-5 from three. He gave up a number of drives to the hoop, which has been a theme for Illinois' perimeter defense the past two seasons. JCL didn't help his team much.
The Illini will face another talented ACC squad on Tuesday, as North Carolina State (4-1) heads to Champaign for the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. The Wolfpack is led by stud freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr., who is averaging more than 18 points and five assists per game. Smith is a freak athlete at the point guard spot, and he is currently projected as the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft by DraftExpress. N.C. State has three other players averaging more than 15 points through the first five games. The Wolfpack fell in an offensive slugfest against Creighton 112-94.