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IUPUI falters down the stretch, loses 85-77 at Illinois

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Three days ago IUPUI earned their biggest win of the season with a second-half comeback against Ball State. They seemed poised to top that with an upset win on the road against Illinois Tuesday night in Champaign. Everything came undone though in the final minutes and Illinois pulled out the 85-77 win.

Matt O’Leary scored a career high 25 points to go along with six rebounds for IUPUI. It was his second straight 20-point game and third in the last four tries. Darell Combs finished with 18 points and four assists and Evan Hall finished with 10 points and six rebounds. Malcolm Hill didn’t match his season high of 40 points, but his 32 points on 18 shots were enough for Illinois to fend off the Jaguars.

Out of the gates it looked like IUPUI might be in for a long night. Illinois jumped out to a 10-0 lead just 2:28 in. But O’Leary answered with the first of four three-pointers on the night and by the 13-minute mark, IUPUI tied the game 12-12. After a jumper from D.J. McCall with 11:08 to go in the half IUPUI led 20-15, capping a 20-5 run. They led the rest of the first half and took a 42-41 lead into the break.

IUPUI shot nearly 52 percent in the first half, made 11-of-12 free throws and had just five turnovers. They also dominated in the paint and in points of turnovers  outscoring Illinois 32-11 in those categories. Still, they led by just one point.

The second half was more back-and-forth than the first. With 6:46 left in the game and the score tied 68-68 IUPUI started making mistakes. They committed three turnovers and two fouls over the next two minutes as Illinois created a five-point buffer. McCall stole the ball with 4:26 left leading to a dunk and Combs followed it up with a layup after an offensive rebound. Illinois extended their lead back to six points, 78-72, just as quickly. Combs hit a 3-pointer to halve the lead, but Hill answered right back with a 3-point play. From that point on, IUPUI shot just 1-for-6 while committing three fouls and two turnovers.

IUPUI failed to duplicate nearly every aspect of their first-half performance in the second half. They got to the line just six times, committed nine turnovers to seven for Illinois, and totaled just 14 points in the paint and off turnovers. They assisted on only three of 13 field goals and shot just 39 percent from the floor in the second half. Those factors combined with Hill’s 23 second-half points were too much to overcome.

The Jaguars won’t get half-credit or an asterisk in the record books, but they continued with some positive momentum. They nearly matched their season high in shooting percentage while playing on the road at a Big Ten school. They got to the free-throw line a decent amount and took advantage shooting 83 percent.  This would have been a big upset if IUPUI had won, but they still need to do better than their performance at Marquette back in November and they’ve done that the last two games on the road.

IUPUI has one more road game to finish out six straight on the road. After taking on Miami Saturday afternoon, they’ll have an even split the rest of the way with 10 home games and 10 away games.

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