Champaign, Ill. – Playing its seventh road game in 16 days, the American University men's basketball team squared off against the nationally-ranked Illinois Fighting Illini on Saturday afternoon at the State Farm Center. The Eagles were able to play Illinois to single-digits midway through the second half, but the Illini were able to convert late for a 70-55 victory.
It was a battle of defense versus offense as AU's fourth-ranked unit in points allowed per game (49.3) matched up against a 10th-ranked Illni offense that averaged 85.9 points per game.
American (5-4) was able to hold Illinois (7-1) to its third lowest scoring output of the season, 15 points under its average, and only third time under 80 points, but the Illini were able to capitalize on several AU miscues while earning the advantage on the boards.
"Illinois is a very good basketball team. They are fast and athletic. Today, we did not do a good job of taking care of the basketball and you can't do that against a team like that," said head coach Mike Brennan.
The Fighting Illini forced AU into 19 turnovers, a season-high for the Eagles, scorning 26 points off those mistakes. Illinois was also strong on the glass holding the advantage on the boards, 29-18, including a 7-0 mark on the offensive end.
American was within two points of Illinois midway through the first half, but a 17-2 run helped the Illini bring a 32-19 lead into the break.
The Eagles clawed their way back into the game in the second period however, closing to within eight after a jumper by senior point guard Pee Wee Gardner, but could get no closer.
Gardner led all scorers with 16 points, tallying 11 of them in the second half. He led three double-digit scorers for AU as Jesse Reed tallied 13 and John Schoof added 12 despite battling foul trouble all afternoon.
American's defense was strong again, holding Illinois' leading scorer Rayvonte Rice to just 1-of-7 attempts from the field, but the big guard did his damage at the free throw line, knocking down 8-of-8 from the charity stripe.
AU also limited the Illini to 5-of-12 shooting from distance, down for its season average of 9.4 3-pointers per game.
The Eagles shot 50 percent from the field, hitting 14-of-23 shots in the second half after being limited to on 36.8 percent in the first half. It is the first time this season that AU has lost when scoring 49 points or more.
American gets a much-needed break from the court, focusing on exams over the next week, before returning to the hardwood to end an eight-game road trip at La Salle on Tuesday, Dec. 16.