In its quarterfinal matchup in the Big Ten Tournament, the Rutgers men’s basketball team fell to Illinois 90-68. This loss ends the Scarlet Knights' (15-11, 10-10) run in the tournament and drops them to a 1-1 record on the season against the No. 3 Fighting Illini (21-6, 16-4).
In the first half, Illinois started out hot, going on a 9-0 run to begin the game. Rutgers countered with a 9-2 run of its own, and the teams proceeded to trade baskets, with the Knights being down 4 at the second media timeout.
After this stretch, the Fighting Illini would take over, extending the lead to 12 in just 4 minutes of the game. They were led in scoring by Ayo Dosunmu, who had 14 first-half points. Kofi Cockburn also made an impact this half, with 6 points and eight rebounds. Cockburn was also able to draw fouls against the bigs of Rutgers early in the game.
Within the first 10 minutes of the game, junior center Myles Johnson and freshman center Clifford Omoruyi both had two fouls, making the Knights go deep into their rotation to avoid further fouls. Illinois was able to generate these fouls into chances at the line, going 11-for-16 from free throws. Rutgers shot approximately 48 percent in the first half but missed all four of its three-point attempts.
The second half saw the Knights make multiple attempts to cut the lead, but they were not able to get within single digits as the Fighting Illini ran away with the game.
Fouls played a large part once again, as junior guard Caleb McConnell was ejected for accidental contact with an Illinois player. Sophomore guard Paul Mulcahy also received a technical foul during the half and proceeded to foul out of the game when he recorded his fifth. Johnson also fouled out, only playing 17 minutes despite starting. The foul discrepancy showed as the Fighting Illini had 31 attempts from the line to 22 for Rutgers.
The Knights only made two threes during the half, finishing 2-for-11 from behind the arc for the game. The rebounding also played a huge part, with Illinois finishing with more than double what Rutgers had as a team. Dosunmu played a huge role in the stat sheet, leading the Fighting Illini with 23 points and six assists. Cockburn also provided a double-double, finishing with 18 points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
For the Knights, junior forward Ron Harper Jr. led with 21 points, registering his 1,000th career point during the game. Fifth-year senior guard Jacob Young and senior guard Geo Baker were the only others from Rutgers to finish with double-digit scoring numbers.
With this loss, the Knights will be waiting for Selection Sunday, where they will find out their first-round opponent in the NCAA Tournament. Rutgers is expected to make the tournament for the first time since 1991.
“Congratulations to Illinois,” said head men’s basketball coach Steve Pikiell. “We didn't play well, (and) Illinois deserved to win.”
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