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CHICAGO -- Tracy Abrams scored a career-high 27 points to lead No. 12 Illinois to a hard-fought 81-79 victory over Auburn in the United Center on Saturday.
Frankie Sullivan led the Tigers with 21 points on 5-of-12 3-pointers while Allen Payne notched his first career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Illinois opened the second half with a 10-4 run for a 57-46 lead with 13:17 remaining as the Tigers missed seven of their first nine shots. A Noel Johnson 3-pointer and a Chris Denson fast break layup brought the Tigers to within 59-53 with 10:48 to play.
A Sullivan corner 3-pointer cut the Illini lead to 66-61 and then an Allen Payne conventional 3-point play brought the Tigers to within 68-64 with 5:36 remaining. Another Sullivan long range 3 in front of Auburn's cut the lead to 68-67 with 4:29 to play.
The Tigers had a chance to take the lead but Sullivan missed a highly-contested shot in traffic in the lane while Asauhn Dixon-Tatum was called for a foul on the other end with 3:47 to play. Illinois outshot Auburn from the foul line 27-of-40 to 10-of-16.
“There is no such thing as a moral victory,” Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. “We came in here to get this job done -- and we didn’t. We gave ourselves some opportunities. The first thing we have to do is address why we didn’t get this one today. At the end of the day it comes down to those mean nasty tough plays I talk about."
Both teams shot identical 16-fo-30 (.533) from the floor in the first half that saw nine ties and eight lead changes with Illinois holding a 47-42 edge. Illinois, which had a 14-2 edge in points off turnovers in the opening period, scored six straight points to take its largest first half lead at 45-39 with 2:55 left.
Auburn held Wooden Award candidate Brandon Paul to 13 points on 3-of-12 shooting, including missing all five 3-point attempts. Paul came into the game ranked second in the Big Ten averaging 19.2 points per game.
Both teams shot 48 percent from the floor while Auburn was a season-high 11-of-23 (.478) from 3-point range while Illinois went 4-of-15. The Tigers outrebounded the Illini 39-27 and had a 24-7 advantage in second chance points.
Auburn had 20 turnovers, 11 of them from guards Frankie Sullivan (5) and Chris Denson (6), while Illinois only had 11. The Ilini outscored the Tigers 19-6 in points off turnovers.
Rob Chubb added 13 points and five rebounds for the Tigers.
Freshman Jordan Price, who had tied an SEC record with 11 consecutive made 3-pointers, missed the game with a stress fracture in his foot.
Auburn next plays its final non-conference game against defending ACC Champion Florida State on Wednesday in Auburn Arena at 6 pm Central.