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Illini basketball squanders most of 17-point lead in unimpressive victory

Illinois forward JEkey (33) drives baseline around Dartmouth forward Connor Boehm (3)second half an NCAA college basketball Tuesday Dec. 10

Illinois forward Jon Ekey (33) drives the baseline around Dartmouth forward Connor Boehm (3)in the second half in an NCAA college basketball Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Rick Danzl)

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Updated: December 11, 2013 12:04AM

It wasn’t hard to spot the red flag after Illinois’ unimpressive 72-65 home victory over Dartmouth.

Clearly, the Illini (9-1) haven’t yet learned how to close out a game.

This time, much of a 17-point lead was squandered over the final nine-plus minutes. The Illini didn’t appear at any point Tuesday night to be even slightly in danger of losing, but that wasn’t going to make coach John Groce feel any better about another inefficient finish.

“We have to close better,” Groce said.

Last Tuesday in Atlanta, the Illini led Georgia Tech by 12 with a little over nine minutes to go but lost the game. Five days later, also in Atlanta, they led Auburn by 30 in the second half before winning by 19.

This team had better tighten things up in a hurry, because the competition is about to get a lot stiffer. Ranked opponents Oregon (in Portland) and Missouri (in St. Louis) are next, and the Illini won’t be back at the Farm until Dec. 31 in the Big Ten opener against Indiana.

Rayvonte Rice led the Illini with 13 points, becoming the first newcomer in the program to score in double figures in his first 10 games since Kiwane Garris did it 20 seasons ago.

Joe Bertrand, Nnanna Egwu and Jon Ekey added 11 points apiece, and freshman Malcolm Hill had his most productive game for the Illini, scoring 10 in 19 minutes off the bench.

Dartmouth’s Connor Boehm and Gabas Maldunas each had 17 points and nine rebounds.


Twitter: @slgreenberg

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