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Illinois drops Big Ten opener at Purdue

(MCT) — WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — With Illinois trailing by only two points, Purdue’s D.J. Byrd secured a rebound on a missed free throw, slid on his knees toward the endline and called timeout.

It was a simple play. A hustle play.

But it added up to the game’s difference-maker as Illinois lost its Big Ten opener 68-61 to the Boilermakers.

Byrd’s rebound typified just how tough and together — a mantra of Illinois coach John Groce — Purdue played Wednesday night at Mackey Arena.

“The point is that little things matter,” Groce said. “I told (my players) the other day if little things don’t matter than ask a guy who’s in bed with a mosquito.”

Purdue certainly was irritating to No. 11 Illinois (13-2) and a reminder of what’s to come this buzz saw Big Ten season.

“It’s a tough league,” senior Tyler Griffey said. “It’s the best league in the country. You have to come to play every night.”

Illinois’ second half shooting was some of the worst of the season at 35.6 percent, missing easy shots and taking ill-advised ones.

But that’s not what bothered Groce.

It was that Purdue outrebounded Illinois 45-35. It was that Purdue, which entered the game shooting 42 percent, connected on 46.2 percent of its second-half shots. It was that Terone Johnson got into the paint and scored a career-high 25 points. The Boilermakers outshot Illinois 36-18 in the paint and 15-4 on second-chance points.

“We got outplayed,” Groce said. “It’s pretty simple.”

The Illini still had a chance.

They trailed 59-49 with 3 minutes, 25 seconds remaining after a 19-4 Boilermakers run as the Illini endured more than five minutes without a field goal.

Brandon Paul woke up with back-to-back 3-pointers to close within 61-58, and D.J. Richardson, who had missed his previous four 3-pointers, drained one to cut the Boilermakers’ lead to 63-61.

After Jacob Lawson missed two free throws, Byrd slid on his knees to secure the rebound and call timeout with 21 seconds remaining. Groce said he trusted the officials but would review the tape to see if Byrd had possession.

Byrd, who finished with 15 points, then took an inbounds pass, hit a shot behind his head and drew a foul. His three-point play upped the lead to five.

“I think he’s a tough son of a gun,” Groce said of Byrd.

Paul scored a team-high 15 points, while Joseph Bertrand scored 12 of his 14 in the first half. Tracy Abrams added 12 points.

The Illini have lost eight straight to the Boilermakers (7-6), a team the Illinois seniors never have beaten.

“You never want to lose, especially to them,” Griffey said. “They’re the only team in the Big Ten I haven’t beaten. We’re looking forward to getting them back when they come to Champaign.”

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