The Illinois Fighting Illini and the Alabama Crimson Tide met in the first round of the NIT. Alabama was playing with an interim coach on Tuesday and we weren't sure what to expect from them. Illinois on the other hand was disappointed with how they played in the Big Ten Tournament and was looking to make up for it in the NIT.
The Crimson Tide took control of this game from the opening tip and never gave the Fighting Illini a chance to breathe. Alabama went on a 23-4 run to start the game, and they never looked back from there. Illinois had a hard time sustaining any momentum in this one. Alabama coasted to a one-sided 79-58 win.
What We Learned
Effort May Have Been An Issue In This Game
It is hard to play in the consolation tournament, but you still have to find a way to compete. The Fighting Illini didn't come out with the attitude and spirit needed to win. They came out flat and played uninspired basketball. Alabama, on the other hand, came out with something to prove. That was the difference in this one. One team came out with the intensity needed to compete in the postseason and the other came out flat. Sure, there was more than effort that decided this game, but it's not often you see a team look as flat as Illinois looked in March.
The Fighting Illini can go eight minutes without scoring
Illinois' offense struggled all night, especially in the first half. The Crimson Tide were able to capitalize on Illinois' lack of scoring by going on a 20-0 run in the opening minutes of the game and Illinois was never able to fully recover from that run. They needed someone to step up on offense and stop the bleeding, but never found that answer. An eight minute period does not decide a game, but it sure can have a substantial impact and it did on Tuesday.
This isn't how Nnanna Egwu and Rayvonte Rice deserved to end their college basketball careers
Both players have had successful careers at Illinois. They deserved to go out with a better effort than this. It has been a disappointing season for Rice especially with his suspension that came earlier this season. That shouldn't take away from what he was able to do on the court for Illinois. He averaged over 15 points a game in the 2 seasons he was with the Illini and was arguably their most reliable scoring option. His ability to score from anywhere on the court will certainly be missed.
Egwu has been a significant contributor for the Illini ever since he stepped on campus. He always gives it his all when he's on the court. Egwu did that again on Tuesday night, unfortunately he didn't get that same effort in return. It will hard to replace his leadership on the court next season.
This was an awful way for the Illini to end the season. They lost 6 of their last 8 games to close out their year. They never found a way to get on the same page and didn't play up to their potential. Many had high hopes for this team a little over a month ago. It's a shame they weren't able to put it all together.