However, Illinois couldn’t keep up with its fast pace it set at the beginning of the game and none of head coach John Groce’s players could find a way to keep the scoring up in the team’s 63-55 loss to the Badgers at State Farm Center.
“It was obviously a grinder,” Groce said. “They played Wisconsin-type basketball and outworked us at times.”
Junior guard Malcolm Hill led the scoring for the Illini with 22 points. Nigel Hayes led the scoring for the Badgers with 17.
Illinois started scoring quickly in the game, running away with a 11-6 lead seven minutes into the game. Michael Finke started the game off with a 3-point shot and a couple of rebounds on a couple of his own missed layup attempts. The redshirt freshman struggled for the rest of the first half after sitting out a majority of the first 10 minutes after his first foul.
Scoring for Illinois became a problem after the quick start. Hill and Kendrick Nunn led the way for the Illini in the first with eight points and four other players scored for Illinois. The team finished shooting 10-of-25 from the field while shooting 4-of-8 from 3-point range, trailing 33-28 at the half.
Illinois kept it competitive in the second half and didn’t all Wisconsin to run away with the game, but the Illini failed to figure out a way to take back the lead. The Badgers lead was kept to within six points until the final five minutes of the game when Wisconsin created a double-digit lead that Illinois couldn’t overcome.
“Offensively we struggled,” Groce said. “I thought we had a couple sloppy plays in a low-possession game. Our two-point field goal percentage wasn’t very good and that stopped us from being effective.”
Freshman Aaron Jordan started the game in place of Jalen Coleman-Lands and put together a nice performance after barely seeing any game time during the past few games. Jordan scored of the first threes at the beginning of the game but was held scoreless for the rest of the half. He finished with seven points, shooting 3-of-4 from the field and added three rebounds.
Despite Finke’s quick start, Illinois’ big men continued to struggle. Finke and Maverick Morgan couldn’t contain Hayes, who added three rebounds and Wisconsin finished with 22 points in the paint and the team out-rebounded Illinois 37-25.
“We have to be a lot better finishing in that two-point percentage,” Groce said. “We just didn’t finish around the rim and failed to finish with the two-point.”
Groce might’ve also added another injury to his depleted team. Finke suffered an apparent knee injury midway through the second half and limped off the court and went straight to the locker room. The big man returned soon after but didn’t seen any game action the rest of the way. Groce said after the game that it looked like Finke suffered a bone contusion and that the redshirt freshman will undergo an MRI on Monday.
There was a cause for other concern for Illini fans early in the second half. Nunn started to limp after a shot attempt and headed straight to the locker room with a trainer. The junior guard missed a couple minutes of game action but came back quickly.
Although both injuries don’t look bad according to Groce, any type of injury is not welcomed by an already depleted team. At this point, there’s not much the Illini players can do.
“I’m going to have to pray that’ it’s not something serious, especially for Finke,” Hill said. “The only thing we can do it pray for (Finke) and don’t think about it because we still have a basketball game to play.”