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Illinois' NIT road starts at Boston U.

Published: Sunday, March 16, 2014 11:12 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Heather Coit)
Illinois' Rayvonte Rice tries to keep a grip on the ball as Nebraska's Shavon Shields (right) reaches in Feb. 26 in Champaign. Illinois will play at Boston University on Tuesday in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament. (AP Photo/Heather Coit)

CHAMPAIGN – Illinois won't be in the NCAA tournament but the Illini will get the chance to keep playing with bid to play Boston University on Wednesday in the National Invitation Tournament.

Illinois (19-14) will face the Terriers (24-10) in Boston. The 6 p.m. Central Time game will be broadcast on ESPN2. The Illini can't play any more home games this season because of renovation work that's started at the State Farm Center.

The NIT bid is a solid consolation prize for a team that played through a long slump before fighting to revive their NCAA hopes with a strong finish. But it also means the Illini will miss the tournament for the fourth time in seven seasons.

"A lot of people, maybe a handful in this group, had written us off," Illinois head coach John Groce told reporters Sunday night. "We want to keep it going as long as we can."

Illini players, Groce said, were upbeat about the news when they heard it at his home. He said he doubts he'll have trouble getting his team motivated for a spot in the second-tier tournament.

Illinois lost eight straight early in the Big Ten season and fell to the bottom of the conferences standings. But they won five of their last eight regular season games and knocked off Indiana in the Big Ten tournament opener.

Friday's 64-63 loss to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament left Illinois at least one win and probably two short of what it needed to get a shot at the NCAAs.

Boston has won nine of its last 11 and relies heavily on the 3-point shot — 34.8 percent of its shots were from 3-point range.

The Terriers are led by 5-10 guard Maurice Watson Jr., who averages 13.5 points a game, and 6-foot guard D.J. Irving, who scored 12.2 a game. Dom Morris, a 6-7 forward scored 11.2 points a game and led the team with 6.2 rebounds a game.

The $165 million State Farm Center renovation project will keep Illinois out of its home for as long as it lasts in the NIT. Work on the project started within hours of the last home game on March 4. It will continue off and on until late 2016.

Knowing they'll have to win away from home shouldn't throw the Illini. They've been strong on the road during their revival over the second half of the conference season, winning five of seven since Feb. 9. That includes wins at Michigan State, Minnesota and Iowa.

The Illini haven't been to the NIT since 2010, when they beat Stony Brook and Kent State before losing to eventual champion Dayton.

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