Illinois barely avoided making some unpleasant program history Monday night against Chicago State.
The Illini had never lost to the Cougars and had never started a season 1-4, but it looked like both firsts were going to be reached in Springfield. Thankfully for the orange and blue, freshman Jalen Coleman-Lands allowed the Illini to escape by the skin of their teeth, hitting a tie-breaking, game-winning, buzzer-beating 3-pointer to send Illinois to an 82-79 win.
With the game knotted at 79 after a Malcolm Hill steal set up a game-tying basket by Khalid Lewis, the Illinois defense forced a shot-clock violation to get the ball back with four seconds left. The inbound pass went to Hill, who found a wide-open Coleman-Lands in the corner for the game-winning bucket as time expired.
Check out this sweet sideline video of the big shot:
— Illini Basketball (@IlliniMBB) November 24, 2015
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It was a mostly disappointing night for the Illini, who trailed by as many as 14 on two separate occasions.
Down by eight at halftime, Illinois' deficit expanded back out to double digits once more and stayed there, peaking at 14 with 11 minutes to play. But from there, the Illini went on a 14-0 run to tie the game at 66. Michael Finke had seven points during the stretch, and freshmen Coleman-Lands and Aaron Jordan each hit 3-pointers. Chicago State went back on top for a while but didn't lead by more than four, allowing Hill to tie the game at 75 with a triple. A Mike Thorne Jr. layup gave the Illini a 77-75 lead with two minutes to go, their first since midway through the first half.
Two straight Chicago State layups made it a 79-77 game before Hill's steal set up Lewis' game-tying bucket ahead of the shot-clock violation and Coleman-Lands' game-winning triple.
The Illini shot just 40 percent from the field on the night but caught fire in the second half, shooting 56.5 percent in the final 20 minutes. They were just 9-for-26 from 3-point range and missed 12 free throws, plus turned the ball over 14 times. But Illinois won the rebounding battle and got 30 bench points in the comeback win.
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Finke was the high man for the Illini with 17 points, and three Illinois players had 12 points each: Coleman-Lands, Hill and Thorne.
It was not a pretty win, nor was it one to be proud of given the quality of competition. That's been an upsetting theme for the Illini this season, who have home losses to North Florida and Chattanooga and needed comebacks to beat North Dakota State by six and now Chicago State by three.
Illinois sits at 2-3 and has UAB on Friday.