Illinois made history on Tuesday night — just not the kind of history you want to make.
The Illini lost their eighth consecutive game — the longest streak since an 11-game losing streak in 1973-74, which is also the longest in program history — as they fell to the Badgers 75-63 at State Farm Center.
For the fourth game in a row, Illinois was close but couldn’t get over the hump. In a much better showing than a 95-70 drubbing at Wisconsin in the team’s first meeting on Jan. 8, the Illini stayed in contention for much of the game, but a barrage of 3-pointers lifted the Badgers above the Illini.
“They just kicked our tail,” Illinois head coach John Groce said. “They won. They played better.”
The Badgers came into the game with a two-game losing streak of their own, and Illinois and Wisconsin traded blows for much of the first half. Tied at 24 with 4:04 remaining in the first half, Wisconsin went on a 9-0 run to grab a 33-24 lead with 1:42 left and never relinquished it.
The Badgers led 36-30 at the break, with a slight advantage in each major statistical category. They outrebounded the Illini 15-13, outshot the Illini 47.8 percent to 44.0 percent, turned the ball over six times to the Illini’s seven and fouled nine times to the Illini’s 10.
The Badgers came out strong to start the second half, extending their lead to 10 within a minute of play, but Rayvonte Rice wasn’t going to make it easy for the Badgers.
The junior scored 16 of his 24 points in the second half while grabbing nine rebounds and two steals to provide a scoring lift for the Illini. Senior Joseph Bertrand added 11 for Illinois, and junior Nnanna Egwu, who has struggled offensively in conference play, had 10 points.
Illinois hit 40.4 percent of its shots and 40 percent of its 3-pointers — a sharp increase over Big Ten averages of 37.4 percent and 27.7 percent, respectively.
Still, Illinois’ defense wasn’t able to stop the Badgers.
“We played man, we played zone,” Groce said. “They had the answer tonight with their shot-making, especially from the 3-point line.”
With 5:40 remaining, Rice closed the gap to three, but the Badgers hit a 3-pointer after 3-pointer after 3-pointer to put the game out of reach. Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker was 4-for-7 from distance, while Josh Gasser and Ben Brust both hit two from deep. Overall, the Badgers shot 10-for-23 from three on the night.
Bertrand said the effort against Wisconsin wasn’t as good as it was Saturday against Iowa, and Illinois still hasn’t put in a solid effort on both ends of the court.
“I think we just need to put both our offense and defense together,” Bertrand said.
Despite a sellout of 16,618, only 4,185 fans were in attendance Tuesday night amid the blizzard. Early in the first half, the PA announcer declared that all fans could move down to the “A” and “B” sections, though they didn’t quite fill either section. Attendance was still strong among students, as some Orange Krush members were unable to sit on the floor.
Johnathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @jhett93.