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Illinois tops Indiana 83-80 in OT in Big Ten opener

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Updated: February 3, 2014 3:59PM



CHAMPAIGN — Illinois coach John Groce has sayings like something ripped from a Disney movie: ‘‘Toughness and togetherness.’’ ‘‘It takes everyone to win.’’

They’d be comedy fodder if they weren’t working to motivate the team. The result on the floor has been an unparalleled intensity.

In its Big Ten opener Tuesday at home, Illinois showed it was the ‘‘tougher’’ team in an 83-80 overtime win over Indiana.

There’s nothing sappy about that.

‘‘We’ve got some tough dudes in our locker room,’’ Groce said. ‘‘We take pride in that. We played really tough late.’’

It didn’t matter whether it was an offensive surge by the Hoosiers (10-4, 0-1 Big Ten) or sometimes egregious officiating that seemed to go against the Illini (12-2, 1-0). Illinois always punched back harder, rallying from seven down midway through the second half.

Illinois forced 23 turnovers, with a litany of non-scoring plays going its way down the stretch. Over the last six minutes of regulation, the Illini only allowed one field goal. A pair of free throws by Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell with 48 seconds left forced overtime.

With 37 seconds left in the extra period and the Illini up two, forward Joseph Bertrand came through the lane to grab an offensive rebound — ultimately the difference-maker.

No player epitomized the Illini relentlessness more than guard Rayvonte Rice. The pervasive feeling has been that Rice, who attended Champaign Centennial High School and transferred from Drake, would slow down once Big Ten play began. But he scored a season-high 29 points, besting his 28 against UIC on Saturday.

‘‘Coach emphasized that [toughness] from the first day he got on campus,’’ Rice said. ‘‘Just being tough, just making the extra ordinary play. That’s just being tough.’’

Rice’s answer seemed almost generic. What coach doesn’t want his team to be tough? Indiana coach Tom Crean wants that. Having it is something altogether different.

‘‘[The Illini] pride themselves on it — you can see it on film,’’ Crean said. ‘‘They play with great toughness, they play with great togetherness, and you’ve got to match it.’’

Email: sgruen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SethGruen



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