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Courtesy: Cary Frye

Big Green Hang Tough at Illinois But Fall by Seven

Courtesy: Dartmouth
Release: 12/17/2013
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Junior Gabas Maldunas and sophomore Connor Boehm each scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds for Dartmouth on Tuesday night, but host Illinois managed to hold off the hard-charging Big Green at the State Farm Center, 72-65.

The Illini (9-1) led by as many as 17 midway through the second half, only to see Dartmouth (3-4) make a game of it down the stretch as freshman Eli Harrison came off the bench to drain four three-pointers in the stanza. But thanks to a balanced scoring attack in which five players scored in double figures — led by Rayvonte Rice’s 13 points — Illinois managed to survive.

Dartmouth shot 41.7 percent (25-of-60) from the floor, while the Illini topped 50 percent (26-of-50, .520). Both teams made seven three-pointers, but four of the Big Green triples came in the final two minutes of the contest. On the boards, Dartmouth held the advantage, 33-27, thanks to the work of Maldunas and Boehm.

With 9:27 left to play, Dartmouth found itself trailing, 56-39, when Tracy Abrams hit the second of two free throws for the Illini. Sophomore Alex Mitola, who entered the game averaging over 11 points, finally got one of his three-point shots to fall, starting a modest 8-0 run to cut the deficit to single digits. Boehm followed the triple with a three-point play the hard way, and Maldunas took the feed on an inbounds play under the basket and scored to make it a 56-47 game.

A minute later, Maldunas got the Green within eight thanks to his tip-in. But when Rice and Jon Ekey rained in back-to-back three-pointers to boost the Illinois lead back to 14 with 2:45 to play, the game seemed well in hand.

The Big Green would not concede, however, as Harrison and Mitola hit consecutive treys. The Dartmouth defense then forced a shot-clock violation, but Mitola’s long-range bomb was off the mark, and Maldunas — who played most of the previous 10 minutes with four fouls — picked up his fifth while going for the rebound.

Abrams left the door open by missing the front end of a one-and-one, and Harrison made Illinois pay by launching another trifecta, cutting the Dartmouth deficit to just five at 67-62 with 24.8 seconds to go. Abrams went back to the line and managed to convert the first of two free throws, leaving Harrison to try another three-pointer that would make it a one-possession game. But his shot would not fall. The Illini knocked down its final four foul shots before Harrison banked in one last three-pointer at the buzzer.

Illinois never trailed in the game with Abrams scoring the game’s first five points on a three-pointer and a driving layup. That lead got to as many as nine during the first 10 minutes of the game before the Big Green began whittling away. Boehm hit a short jumper in the paint before senior Tyler Melville drilled the only Dartmouth triple of the opening half. One of Ekey’s three trifectas made it a seven-point game again, yet Boehm and Maldunas each scored in the paint to bring the score to 22-19.

Dartmouth got a defensive stop and had a chance to tie the game, but Maldunas could not get his shot to fall. Illinois then scored seven straight points, culminating with a three-point play by Nnanna Egwu for the first double-digit lead of the night. The next six Big Green tallies came at the free throw line, but Malcolm Hill popped a pair of treys to help the Illini increase their advantage to 14. Sophomore Matt Rennie provided a glimmer of hope as the buzzer sounded as he canned his nine-foot turnaround baseline jumper, leaving the score at 39-27 at the intermission.

In the opening half, Illinois had its sights set well, shooting 57.1 percent (16-of-28) from the floor, including 5-of-10 behind the arc. Dartmouth, meanwhile, hit on just 40 percent (10-of-25) with the one three-pointer in seven attempts.

The Illini lead oscillated between 12 and 16 points for the first five minutes of the second stanza until Harrison sank his first three-pointer to make it 47-36. But a 6-0 Illinois spurt gave the host its largest lead at 17 points. Two and a half minutes later, the Big Green started their rally.

Boehm, the Ivy League leader in field goal percentage, continued his accurate ways by making 7-of-11 from the floor, while Maldunas made 8-of-17. Harrison added a season-high 14 points thanks to hitting 4-of-7 from downtown and 5-of-8 overall.

For Illinois, Rice was 6-of-9 on field goals and snared a team-best five rebounds. Ekey, Egwu and Bertrand all had 11 points, and Hill came off the bench to provide 10.

Dartmouth returns home after playing four straight games on the road when Jacksonville State comes to Hanover on Saturday, Dec. 14 for a 4 p.m. tip. Next up for Illinois is a big test against 11th-ranked Oregon in Portland in a televised game on ESPN2 at 8 p.m. (CST), also on Saturday.

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