Rutgers vs. Illinois: Observations from a disappointing Senior Day loss

On Sunday at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC), the Rutgers men's basketball team honored its four graduating seniors -- Jake Dadika, Mike Williams, Candido Sa and Deshawn Freeman.

But there was also a basketball game to be played, against an Illinois team that the Scarlet Knights were in a three-way tie with for 12th place in the conference.

And at the end of the day, it certainly wasn't the way that those four wanted to end their careers on the Banks.

After going on a 6-0 run to start the second half and go up 36-35, Rutgers (13-18, 3-15) had no answer for the sharp-shooting Illini.

Illinois rattled off 40 points in the last 17 minutes of play, led by 37 bench points from players Aaron Jordan (15) and Michael Finke (19).

Every time the Knights seemed to get close, someone on the Illini had a timely answer. 

When the final buzzer sounded, it was a 75-62 loss on a forgettable Senior Day.

Here are three observations from the loss.

Up and Down Day for Deshawn Freeman

The fifth-year senior from Rocky Mount, North Carolina, had a hot start to the game, bringing energy to the floor and scoring 9 quick points. 

He quieted down as the game progressed, and finished with 11 points. But he fouled out with 4:17 left in the game, stepping off the RAC floor for the last time in disappointing fashion.

"It hurt," he said of fouling out in his last home game. '"But I'm just gonna move on from it."

And as he walked off that floor that he spent two-plus years playing on, he noted that there was a lot going through his head, as his Senior Day ended in a way he certainly didn't dream of.

"(I) can't really explain it," he said. "(It's) the worst way to go out, to foul out in (your) last home game. It was the worst."

Jake Dadika Plays 25 Minutes

You read that right. The walk-on out of Spotswood, New Jersey, got his first career start on his Senior Day, but it was not a feel-good gesture by head coach Steve Pikiell, as Rutgers needed every bit from him with freshman guard Geo Baker still not at 100 percent after missing the team's last game with the flu and sophomore forward Issa Thiam in foul trouble.

He made the most of it too, scoring 4 points and dishing out 2 assists, but most importantly, in a game where the Knights turned it over 16 times, he did not turn it over a single time. 

Dadika was deservedly named a team captain by Pikiell in the middle of the season, and has been a guy the last two seasons that Pikiell can lean on when he needs quality minutes and is shorthanded.

While the team result was not what he wanted, Dadika played his most significant role in his final game as a Scarlet Knight.

"It's just crazy I'm never gonna be back out there again," he said. "You're just thinking (about) all the moments you had, all the moments you let slip, all the moments that were awesome."

Despite the Final Score, the Game was Well Within Reach

A 13-point loss looks like a one-sided affair, but Rutgers had plenty of opportunities in the second half to avoid a double-digit loss and give itself the opportunity to win.

But there were just too many turnovers and too many made shots by Illinois. Part of the issue is that the Illini just could not miss in the second half, making seemingly every shot attempt down the stretch.

There was also the Knights offense, one that missed 9 of 10 field goals to end the game and didn't make one for the final 3:36. 

16 turnovers is killer, especially when accompanied with just 11 assists. After being a relatively clean offensive team in nonconference play with turnovers, Rutgers has not been sharp in conference play. The team ranks 10th out of 14 teams, turning the ball over on 18.1 percent of its possessions in Big Ten play.

If the Knights want any chance of winning a game in the Big Ten Tournament and gaining some momentum for next season, it needs to clean things up a considerable amount on offense.

"(Illinois) made shots, and they made their free throws," Pikiell said. " ... We got a couple of good looks, I think we needed to capitalize. We didn't make free throws when we needed to. They play really good defense and they made some big shots."

For updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @GriffinWhitmer and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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