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Illini’s slide continues

Illinois guards Joseph Bertrand (2) and Tracy Abrams (13) lose a ball out of bounds during the second half of Wednesday's game against Purdue in Champaign. Purdue won 66-58.
Illinois guards Joseph Bertrand (2) and Tracy Abrams (13) lose a ball out of bounds during the second half of Wednesday's game against Purdue in Champaign. Purdue won 66-58.

CHAMPAIGN — Before the game, leading scorer Rayvonte Rice's status was in question.

Nobody was quite sure what to make of the freshmen with potential but not a whole lot of production.

Those answers came quickly against Purdue.

Rice finished with 11 points, putting to rest worries about his strained groin for now. Freshmen Malcolm Hill came off the bench to contribute seven points, and Kendrick Nunn scored eight points with two 3-pointers.

And there was Mr. Reliable Tracy Abrams leading the way with 13 points.

But more questions remain as the Illini's losing streak hit three games with a 66-58 loss at home to the Boilermakers after road losses at Wisconsin and Northwestern.

Purdue (12-5, 2-2 Big Ten) kept itself in the game by pounding the ball inside, outscoring Illinois (13-5, 2-3) in the paint. The Boilermakers were led by 17 points from 7-foot center A.J. Hammons, who frustrated coach Matt Painter when he picked up back-to-back silly fouls in the second half when the Illini came at him.

The Illini didn't answer every question, though, as the Boilermakers outscored them by 12 points in the scond half.

While they shored up some of their shooting woes – connecting on 39.2 percent was a major improvement from Sunday's 28 percent at Northwestern – they still need to find more production from more of their starters.

Nnanna Egwu (0), Jon Ekey (six) and Joseph Bertrand (11) contributed little offensively. Bertrand is typically consistent, but Egwu and Ekey have been slumping.

After a hot start, Rice cooled off in the second half.

The Illini also allowed Purdue to outrebound them and outscore them in second-chance points, areas where the Illini actually excelled in back-to-back losses at Wisconsin and Northwestern.

Illinois used a 14-2 run to end the first half with a 33-27 lead, coming back from an eight-point deficit.

Abrams scored nine points in the last 3 minutes, 31 seconds as part of the run that brought the Illini back from a 27-19 disadvantage.

The point guard followed up on his 13-point performance against Northwestern, where he was the only player with notable offensive production in the 49-43 loss on Sunday.

Rice surpassed his total point production of eight points from the Northwestern game in the first half against the Boilermakers. Coach John Groce had said earlier in the week that he was unsure how much Rice would play or how effective he would be after suffering a groin strain against the Wildcats.

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