CHICAGO — Tracy Abrams scored a career-high 27 points and No. 12 Illinois beat Auburn 81-79 on Saturday.
The Illini (13-1) saw an 11-point lead shrink to one in the closing minutes but they prevailed after falling to Missouri in the Braggin' Rights game a week earlier – their first loss under coach John Groce.
Things got real tense when Frankie Sullivan buried a 3 for Auburn (5-7) to make it 68-67 with 4:29 remaining. Illinois then hit 13 of 18 free throws the rest of the way for a rare win at the United Center, where they had dropped three straight and five of six after winning 18 in a row.
They can thank Abrams.
The sophomore guard came up big on a day when star Brandon Paul was off target, going 6 of 11 from the field and 13 of 15 from the free throw line while eclipsing his previous high by five points.
Paul, meanwhile, finished with 13 points but hit just 3 of 12 shots. He missed all five 3-point attempts and the Illini again struggled from the outside, going 4 of 15 after hitting 8 of 32 against Missouri.
Sullivan led Auburn with 21 points. Rob Chubb scored 13, and Allen Payne chipped in with 10 points and 10 rebounds, but the Tigers dropped their second straight.
Josh Wallace hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer for Auburn to make it a two-point game, but by then, the Illini had sealed this one.
Both teams hit 16 of 30 shots in the first half, but Illinois took a 47-42 lead with Abrams scoring 16 points. He hit two free throws with 4 minutes left in the half to break a 39-39 tie and start a 14-5 run that stretched into the second half.
The only points for Auburn during that stretch came on a three-point play by Wallace with 2:22 remaining before halftime and two free throws by Chubb with 17:15 left in the game before D.J. Richardson hit two of his own for Illinois, making it 53-44.
The Tigers went more than 7 minutes without a field goal before Sullivan's layup with 15 minutes remaining. But Paul answered with a wild one of his own, flipping the ball over his shoulder and into the basket as he slipped near the baseline.