Dec. 29, 2012
CHICAGO - Tracy Abrams scored a career-high 27 points to lead #12 Illinois to a hard-fought 81-79 victory over Auburn in the United Center on Saturday. Frankie Sullivan led the Tigers with 21 points on 5-of-12 3-pointers while Allen Payne notched his first career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Illinois (13-1) opened with a 10-4 run in the second half for a 57-46 lead with 13:17 remaining as the Tigers missed seven of their first nine shots. A Noel Johnson 3-pointer and a Chris Denson fast break layup brought the Tigers to within 59-53 with 10:48 to play.
A Sullivan corner 3-pointer cut the Illini lead to 66-61 and then an Allen Payne conventional 3-point play brought the Tigers to within 68-64 with 5:36 to go. Another Sullivan long range 3 in front of Auburn's bench cut the lead to 68-67 with 4:29 remaining.
Auburn (5-7) had a chance to take the lead, but Sullivan missed a highly-contested shot in the lane while Asauhn Dixon-Tatum was called for a foul on the other end with 3:47 left. Illinois outshot Auburn from the foul line, 27-of-40 to 10-of-16.
"There is no such thing as a moral victory," said Auburn head coach Tony Barbee. "We came in here to get this job done, and we didn't. We gave ourselves some opportunities. Like I told the guys, we have one game left in the first stage of the season in the non-conference schedule. We have to move on past this, and we have to go get that, but the first thing we have to do is address why we didn't get this one today.
"At the end of the day it comes down to those mean, nasty, tough plays I talk about. We had a lot of those opportunities to come up with. We got them to miss shots and there was a missed rebound, and they come up with it. We get our hand on the ball. It squibbles on the floor, and there are two guys staring at it, us and them. We stare at it. They go get it. Those are the plays that made the difference in the game today. We played at a high enough level to win this game, but that is what makes the difference in the game."
Both teams shot an identical 16-fo-30 (.533) from the floor in the first half that saw nine ties and eight lead changes with Illinois holding a 47-42 edge. Illinois, which had a 14-2 edge in points off turnovers in the opening period, scored six straight points to take its largest first half lead at 45-39 with 2:55 left.
Auburn held Wooden Award candidate Brandon Paul to 13 points on 3-of-12 shooting, including missing all five 3-point attempts. Paul came into the game ranked second in the Big Ten averaging 19.2 points per game.
"I thought we played pretty well," said Sullivan. "The 50-50 balls were tough. We have reiterated that the whole year. If we had them, we could have easily come out with this game. That kept us from getting the win. We had too many defensive breakdowns. We did a pretty good job offensively, but at the end of the game defense and tough balls win the game.
"It is good the way we bounced back today. Our guys played at a high level. This is a good step forward and as long as we keep doing that, we will be alright."
Both teams shot 48 percent from the floor while Auburn was a season-high 11-of-23 (.478) from 3-point range while Illinois went 4-of-15. The Tigers outrebounded the Illini 39-27 and had a 24-7 advantage in second chance points.
Auburn plays its final non-conference game against defending ACC Champion Florida State on Wednesday in Auburn Arena at 6 pm Central.