February 9, 2019 / 11:51 PM / 6 days ago

Freshman’s 2nd-half burst lifts Illinois over Rutgers in OT

Freshman center Giorgi Bezhanishvili scored 29 of his career-high 35 points after halftime to guide Illinois to a 99-94 Big Ten victory in overtime against Rutgers on Saturday afternoon in Champaign, Ill.

Feb 9, 2019; Champaign, IL, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights center Shaquille Doorson (2) blocks the shot from Illinois Fighting Illini guard Ayo Dosunmu (11) during the first half at State Farm Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Sophomore guard Trent Frazier contributed 17 points and foul-plagued freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu added 12 as Illinois (9-15, 5-8) earned its third win in a row. The Illini had been 0-9 this season when trailing at halftime.

Bezhanishvili’s 35 points broke Illinois’ single-game freshman record set by Deon Thomas — the school’s all-time leading scorer — when he scored 34 in 1990-91.

Freshman guard Caleb McConnell came off the bench and delivered a career-high 25 points for Rutgers (11-12, 4-9). Freshman guard Montez Mathis added 17 points while sophomore guard Geo Baker and freshman guard Ron Harper Jr. contributed 15 points apiece.

Rutgers, which entered the day as the Big Ten’s lowest-scoring team at 66.8 points per game, shrugged off a tough start and thrived against Illinois’ quick pace. McConnell produced 12 points in the first half as Rutgers built a 45-42 lead at the break.

Illinois regained the lead in the second half despite its usual top two scorers — Dosunmu and Frazier — spending time on the bench in foul trouble. The Illini started pounding the ball inside to the 6-foot-9 Bezhanishvili, who kept hitting layups and jump hooks with either hand. He finished 14 of 18 from the field.

Illinois built a 72-65 lead — the game’s largest margin — on Bezhanishvili’s tip-in and free throw with 9:06 to play. Rutgers didn’t wilt, though, as Baker and Mathis drilled 3-pointers to pull within a basket.

When McConnell drilled an open 3-pointer from the wing with 2:58 to play, Rutgers made it 80-80 to pull even for the first time since early in the second half.

Senior guard Aaron Jordan gave Illinois an 85-82 lead when Dosunmu fed him for an open 3-pointer with 1:57 to play. Baker missed a game-tying 3-pointer with 33 seconds left, but McConnell earned the putback with 30 seconds left to get Rutgers within 1.

Dosunmu split two free throws with 22.7 seconds left to leave Rutgers an opening, which Harper barged through with a 10-foot runner with 10 seconds left to make it 86-86. Dosunmu drove the right wing toward the basket in the waning seconds, but Mathis snuffed his runner to force overtime.

Rutgers bolted to a 90-86 lead in the opening minute of extra time, but Bezhanishvili’s pair of free throws with 2:52 left gave Illinois the lead for good.

—Field Level Media

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