(AP) DeShawn Freeman’s sixth 3-pointer of the season may have knocked Illinois out of the NCAA Tournament and put coach John Groce out of a job.
Freeman scored 21 points and hit a 3-pointer with seven seconds left to lead Rutgers past Illinois, 62-59, on Saturday.
“D’s (DeShawn) been knocking them down. Coach pulls him aside. They get shots up before practice. He’s always been a good 3-point shooter,” Corey Sanders said. “That was just the biggest one of his career.”
Freeman hit the game-winner from the wing, before flinging Tracy Abram’s missed 3-point attempt into the student section, along with Illinois’ NCAA Tournament hopes and Groce’s job status.
Both were in major question before Illinois (18-13, 8-10) reeled off a four-game winning streak heading into the regular-season finale against Rutgers. With the loss, both questions now re-emerge.
“I hope not,” Groce said when asked if his team felt added pressure due to those circumstances. “I don’t want them to feel that way. Is there some of that that just comes with it? It’s hard to keep guys sheltered from all of that. It would be easy to say that now — that it’s some of the reason that we missed some of the shots that we would normally make.”
Illinois led 44-34 after Michael Fink made a 3-pointer with 14:44 to go but Rutgers (14-17, 3-15) rallied, taking a 55-54 lead with five minutes remaining after Sanders scored six straight points.
Sanders, who had 17 points for Rutgers, passed the ball to Freeman, rather take the final shot himself.
“I was going to take the last shot, but I had nowhere to go,” Sanders said. “I went to my left, he crashed in, ‘D’ was more open than me, he’s hit the shot before, and if we miss, the good thing about it is we’re going to overtime, so I wasn’t really too concerned about it. He let it go and it was all net, so it was a good feeling.”
Malcolm Hill and Maverick Morgan each scored 16 points for Illinois.
Rutgers took much more advantage of its second opportunities than Illinois. Rutgers had 15 second-chance points while Illinois had five.
While Freeman beat Illinois from deep to win the game, he also helped Rutgers control the paint where the Scarlet Knights outscored Illinois 34-24.
Illinois: The Illini ended the regular season winning four out of five, but the loss may end its NCAA Tournament hopes and Groce’s tenure. They’ll need to make a serious run in the Big Ten Tournament to change both of those.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights end a once-promising regular season. After an 11-2 start under first-year coach Steve Pikiell, Rutgers managed to win just three games in the Big Ten. However, that matches the total from the first two seasons.
Illinois: Will head back East for the Big Ten Tournament in Washington.
Rutgers: Locked in as the No. 14 seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
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