CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Some travelers lose their luggage and others misplace their sanity while visiting Las Vegas.
Illinois lost its shooting touch and its rebounding edge.
But because Tracy Abrams and Ray Rice never lost their willingness to fight, Illinois improved to 7-0 Friday night, coming from behind to edge Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne 57-55 in a basketball game that had a State Farm Center crowd of 15,638 standing for the final few minutes.
Fresh from its victory Tuesday night over Nevada-Las Vegas, Illinois came out Friday looking like it had a doozy of a Sin City hangover.
The Illini fell behind 35-27 at the half and heard it from coach John Groce, who said they weren’t measuring up to the toughness IPFW was showing.
But Abrams set a different second-half tone and had 12 of his 15 points and three of his four steals to ignite a second-half surge that had the outcome teetering in the balance.
Groce slapped Abrams on the back and saluted the junior point guard for setting a tone that teammates responded to in the second half.
“This guy right here, without him we probably don’t get it done,” Groce said. “He willed us. He had that look in his eyes.
“His leadership, the way he was vocal. I gave him a hug after the game because I was so proud of him. From where he was when I first got here until now — Jiminy Christmas.
“I was proud of the way our guys responded to a couple of things I said at halftime and part of that was (Abrams). He’s an extension of what I want said, and tonight he did that at the highest level since I’ve coached him. The dude is a winner.”
Illinois goes back on the road for its next game — a Tuesday night encounter against Georgia Tech in Atlanta. The game (6:15 p.m., ESPN2) is part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.