Illinois Fighting Illini

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No. 21 Purdue dominates Illinois

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — When Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas are in sync, it’s difficult trying to name a better power forward-center combination in college basketball.

No. 21 Purdue’s two interior players certainly were in sync on Tuesday night against outmanned Illinois.

Haas had 24 points and six rebounds, and power forward Swanigan added 22 points and 10 rebounds in the Boilermakers’ dominating 91-68 victory.

Haas scored 13 points in the second half when the Boilermakers (15-4, 4-2 Big Ten) led by as many as 27. Swanigan had a four-point first half but was almost unstoppable during the second half, accounting for 18 points and five rebounds.

“It was Illinois’ game plan not to double us,” Swanigan said. “You could hear their coaches yelling to them to pressure the ball. That was their game plan, and we had success with it.”

Purdue placed five players in double figures, also getting 14 from freshman guard Carsen Edwards, 11 from forward Vince Edwards — no relation — and 10 from point guard P.J. Thompson.

“We have to have balance, and we did that tonight,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “When Isaac got the ball deep like he did tonight, that’s hard to stop. When Isaac is good and efficient, it really puts the other team in a bind.”

Illinois (12-7, 2-4) got 15 points from Maverick Morgan and 12 from Malcolm Hill but had no answer for the Boilermakers’ two post players, each of whom had his way around the basket.

With this victory, Purdue leads the all-time series with Illinois, 100-87.

Purdue made 9 of its first 14 field goal attempts, including 5 of 7 from 3-point range, built a 19-5 lead with 13:01 to play in the first half and led 44-30 through 20 minutes, shooting 60 percent from the field (15 of 25).

“With that team, you kind of have to pick your poison,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “They have two great post players, and then they surround them with good shooters. We let them get loose from 3 early, and the 3-point line got them out front and eventually into a double-digit lead.”

Haas was grateful for the 3-point help.

“I don’t think the 3-point success made the game easy, but it gave us confidence and definitely let us get our heads up,” Haas said. “It wasn’t like we were taking contested 1-on-1 shots. We were moving the ball and getting open looks.”

Carsen Edwards had 12 first-half points for Purdue, and Haas had 11. The two were a combined 9 of 10 from the field before halftime. The Boilermakers outrebounded Illinois 20-13 during the opening 20 minutes, although they did not get a single offensive rebound.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: The Illini never recovered from the early 19-5 deficit and fell to 0-4 in games against Top 25 competition. Illinois had trouble coping with Purdue’s size and watched as the Boilermakers made five 3-pointers during the first 7 minutes. If Illinois loses Saturday at Michigan, it will be 2-5 in the Big Ten.

Purdue: As the Boilermakers have done every time after a regular-season loss in the past two seasons, they won the next game, getting a nice balance of perimeter play from Carsen Edwards and Haas.

DOUBLE YOUR PLEASURE

With 22 points and 10 rebounds, Swanigan has nine double-doubles in the past 10 games, missing only this past Thursday with 17 and eight in an 83-78 loss at Iowa.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

If the 21st-ranked Boilermakers beat Penn State on Saturday in Mackey Arena and improve to 16-4, 5-2, chances are solid that they will move up a bit in the AP Top 25.

ROAD WOES

Including Tuesday’s loss, Illinois is 0-3 in Big Ten road games, losing by 25 at Maryland, by 16 at Indiana and by 23 at Purdue.

“It’s a lot about being inconsistent,” Groce said.

UP NEXT

Illinois: The Illini travel to Ann Arbor on Saturday to play Michigan.

Purdue: The Boilermakers are at home again Saturday for a game with Penn State.

Illinois guard granted sixth season

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The past two seasons, Tracy Abrams has had to watch from the sideline, his years ended before they started due to major injuries.

He’ll get one more chance at his senior season.

Abrams was granted a sixth year of eligibility and will return to Illinois for the 2016-17 season, it was announced Thursday.

“I am so proud of the perseverance and determination Tracy has displayed through his injuries,” Illinois coach John Groce said in a statement released by the school. “We are looking forward to having him back on the court this season, setting the tone for our team with his leadership, toughness and competitive drive.

“There is no one more deserving of having a healthy and successful senior year than Tracy Abrams.”

Abrams’ issues began in September, 2014, when he tore his ACL ahead of his first planned senior year. He redshirted and was working to return for a fifth season when he ruptured his Achilles last July ahead of what would have been his second attempted senior season.

As a junior in 2013-14, Abrams played 30.1 minutes a game and averaged 10.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists. The 6-foot-2 guard shot 33.3 percent from the floor.

Abrams, who has earned both undergraduate and master’s degrees at Illinois, gives the Illini experience and a positive story after an offseason mostly of turmoil, most notably the dismissal of guard Kendrick Nunn after he plead guilty to battery charges stemming from an altercation with a woman.

Illinois’ Thorne getting sixth year

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Illinois forward Mike Thorne, Jr. was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, it was announced Wednesday.

Thorne’s case was an interesting one because he initially injured himself Nov. 29, tearing a meniscus in his knee, and if he had missed the rest of the season, he would have likely been a slam-dunk to receive a medical hardship waiver. However, The 6-foot-11 Thorne returned to the court on Jan. 19, playing 16 minutes in a loss to Indiana, which many thought might disqualify him from gaining the extra year. He did not appear in a game the rest of the season.

In the end, though, the NCAA is allowing Thorne to return for one final season.

“We are thrilled for Mike,” Illinois coach John Groce said in a statement released by the school. “He endured a lot of adversity last season, suffering the knee injury after a great start and then having lingering complications that prevented him from being able to return to the court.

“Now he will get that chance to come back for a sixth year and finish his college career in the way we all envision. The NCAA deserves a ton of credit in this situation, as they have made a decision that is without question in the best interest of the student-athlete.”

The Illini went 15-19 overall and 5-13 in the Big Ten last year. Thorne averaged 12.9 points and 8.5 rebounds in 21.4 minutes per game before his injury.

Illinois’ Leron Black gets probation for threatening bouncer

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URBANA, Ill. (AP) Illinois basketball player Leron Black has pleaded guilty to misdemeanor aggravated assault after threatening a bouncer at a campus bar and has been sentenced to a year of probation.

Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz said Thursday plea that Black was a candidate for probation because he took responsibility for the crime and had no prior record. The 20-year-old Black avoided jail time and the felony assault charge he faced after his Feb. 19 arrest.

Coach John Groce suspended Black after the arrest. A team spokesman did not immediately respond to a question about Black’s status.

Black is one of three Illini players arrested this year.

Juniors Jaylon Tate and Kendrick Nunn have both pleaded not guilty to domestic assault charges stemming from separate incidents in March.

Forward Black now out indefinitely for Illinois

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) Illinois forward Leron Black is now out indefinitely with a meniscus tear he suffered in early October.

Team spokesman Derrick Burson confirmed Black’s status Thursday.

Black had surgery on his right knee on Oct. 9 and has played limited minutes in just a handful of games since his return. He did not play in Illinois’ two most recent games.

The 6-foot-7, 220-pound Black was expected to start this season and offer inside scoring, rebounding and defense to a team that is short on all three.

Black is one of three would-be starters out long-term for Illinois (6-5). Point guard Tracy Abrams is out for the season, and coach John Groce has said he isn’t sure if center Mike Thorne Jr. will return.

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.