The Illini had their chances to pull out a late win over Providence on Wednesday night, but point-blank misses in the final seconds instead meant a brutal loss.
Illinois missed two shots right at the rim with time ticking off the clock, and a second-half comeback was for naught as the Illini fell to the Friars, 60-59.
Trailing by a point after a tie-breaking Providence free throw with 43 seconds to play, Illinois walk-on Alex Austin had a layup attempt blocked. But the Friars missed a pair of free-throw chances at the other end, giving the Illini the ball back with 21 seconds to play. Malcolm Hill drove, getting to the hoop but missing a layup. Michael Finke grabbed the rebound but missed a put-back dunk, the second blown chance at point-blank range in seconds, and time ran out on the Illini.
John Groce was bent over with his head bowed when the clock hit zero, sending the Illini to a second loss in their first three games of the season.
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Illinois trailed by as many as seven early on in the second half, but Finke scored eight straight points for the Illini to cut the deficit to one. An Aaron Jordan 3-pointer tied the game at 43 with 11 and a half minutes to play. A Hill jumper gave the Illini their first lead of the second half with a little more than nine minutes left in the half, and two and a half minutes later, Jalen Coleman-Lands hit back-to-back 3-pointers to tie the game at 54, then to give the Illini a three-point lead.
Providence scored the next five points to take a two-point lead, but a Hill bucket with a little more than a minute left tied the game at 59 before Providence hit a late free throw that proved the game-winner.
It was a tough night for the Illini, as their two starting big men were in foul trouble throughout the evening. Mike Thorne Jr. and Leron Black combined to play just 17 minutes and picked up a combined nine fouls. It meant big minutes for Finke and Maverick Morgan. Finke certainly answered the bell with 12 points and seven rebounds.
Coleman-Lands hit five 3-pointers and was the high man for the Illini with 17 points.
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Hill played all 40 minutes, showing how badly the Illini miss the injured upperclassman trio of Tracy Abrams, Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate. Hill had a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
The Illini played their best defensive game of the season thus far, holding Providence to 38.3-percent shooting and just 26.1-percent shooting from 3-point range. And while the Friars went to the free-throw line 18 times, they made just eight of those shots. Meanwhile, the Illini attempted just six free throws, making four. Foul trouble for the bigs and in general proved Illinois' downfall Wednesday.
The Illini next play Chattanooga at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.