PISCATAWAY, NEW JERSEY (HOI) -- Five Illinois players scored in double-figures Sunday against Rutgers, but the 13th Illini (5-3) couldn't find a way to come out on top in a road battle against No. 19 Rutgers (6-0).
"That's life on the road in the Big Ten. Quite the learning lesson today, we got taken out behind the woodshed and whooped," said Illinois Head Coach Brad Underwood.
It seemed like Illinois was in control for the entire first half, building up double-digit leads, but when the halftime buzzer sounded Rutgers was only down by 4. The Scarlet Knights then turned it on in the second half to take control with their own set of double-digit leads, winning an offensive showdown 91-88.
Ron Harper Jr. scored 28 points, Jacob Young added 24, and Montez Mathis chipped in 15 points to lead a Rutgers offense that got to the free throw line constantly. Rutgers shot 36 free throws, while Illinois only made it to the line 15 times. Underwood says the teams fouling, specifically from their guards, is very concerning.
"We spent most of the year in the top 10 last year in foul rate, now it's becoming a problem of epic concern and you're not going to win on the road with a 21 free throw discrepancy. There's no rhythm and we can't get out and be our best in transition and that pretty much summed up tonight's game," continued Underwood.
The Illini had three players foul out, plus two more had four fouls, all of them guards. It's the second time this season Illinois has scored more than 75 points and still lost a game. Last year the Illini averaged 72.2 points per game.
"The game finds you, the game finds effort and you can't cheat the game. That's all you're doing when you don't play hard is cheat the game and we talk about that constantly. Again give Rutgers credit and their veterans. The game meant a lot to them, they were at home and it meant more to them than it did to us," added Underwood.
Junior guard Ayo Dosunmu led the team in scoring with 22 points (10-20 FG, 1-2 3PT), 11 rebounds, and 6 assists. Senior guard scored a season-high 19 points (6-10 FG, 3-6 3PT) and 5 assists. Sophomore center Kofi Cockburn registered another double-double with 17 points (7-14 FG) and 12 rebounds. Senior guard Da'Monte Williams had 12 points (4-4 FG, 4-4 3PT) but fouled out in just 24 minutes. Junior forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili had 11 points (5-7 FG) and 4 rebounds.
Illinois will now try to rebound as they hit the road once again, this time facing Penn State (3-2) on Dec. 23 at 5:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network.