GAME NOTES: The seventh-seeded Boston University Terriers will host the second-seeded Illinois Fighting Illini in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament on Wednesday at the Agganis Arena, with the winner advancing to the second round to play either Clemson or Georgia State.
Illinois began its season strong, but fell apart midway through the conference portion of its schedule, at one point losing eight consecutive games. The Illini were dropped from the Big Ten Tournament by Michigan, 64-63, in a tough matchup in the quarterfinal round.
Boston University enjoyed a successful first season as a member of the Patriot League, going 15-3 in the conference and earning the top overall seed headed into the conference tournament. But the Terriers made it to the tourney final and were dropped on their home floor by American University, 55-36, in a dismal offensive display.
This will mark the first-ever meeting between the Big Ten's Fighting Illini and the former America East turned Patriot League Terriers.
Illinois lost in the Big Ten Tournament in heartbreaking fashion to the Wolverines, who got a tip-in with just a few ticks left on the clock to give them the lead. Tracy Abrams then had a chance to win it for the Illini, as the guard drove the lane and had a open look at a runner for the win. But Abrams short-armed the shot, which bounced off the front rim. Abrams and Rayvonte Rice each scored 11 points to pace Illinois in the contest, while Rice tallied seven rebounds and recorded a pair of steals. Kendrick Nunn added 10 points, and Nnanna Egwu grabbed a team-high nine rebounds in the one-point loss.
Rice led the team in scoring during the season, and takes a 15.5 ppg scoring average into the matchup with Boston University. Rice's stat line also included a 6 rpg mark, 51 assists and a team-best 53 steals on the year. Abrams was the only other Illini player to net a double-digit scoring average, recording 11 ppg with a team-high 106 assists. Egwu topped the Illinois squad in rebounding (6.1 rpg) and in blocked shots (72). The Illini score 64.6 ppg and allow just 62.5 ppg.
It was a disappointing end to a stellar regular season for Boston University, which saw its offense come grinding to a screeching halt against American in the Patriot League Tournament championship contest. The Terriers connected on 24 percent of their shots in the first half, and then improved to just 37 percent shooting in the second frame, although BU missed all eight of its 3- point tries in the period (1-of-17 in the game). Maurice Watson Jr. scored a team-high 11 points in the loss, adding five assists and seven turnovers to his stat line. Dom Morris netted 10 points with eight rebounds. Overall, the Terriers hit just 30.8 percent of their shots in the game, and went to the free-throw line a grand total of seven times (3-of-7 in the game).
Watson brings a 13.5 ppg scoring average into the contest against Illinois. Watson is hitting 50.3 percent of his shot attempts this season, and leads the team with 236 assists on the year with an impressive 73 steals. His backcourt partner at guard, D.J. Irving, is second on the team in scoring at 12.2 ppg, and Morris checks in at third with 11.2 ppg. Morris tops the team with a 6.2 rpg average, and Malik Thomas has blocked a team-high 14 shots. The Terriers are netting 71.5 ppg this season, and give up just 67.1 ppg to opponents.
Boston University has to be a bit excited to be able to perform at home once again, and hopefully get some redemption for the abysmal effort in the Patriot League championship game. It'll be a tough matchup for the Terriers though, going against a Big Ten program that nearly took down Top 10-ranked Michigan. Illinois simply comes in with a higher level of play.
Game Date and Time