MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)—Seventh-ranked Illinois got an unpleasant surprise in the second half.
“We lost the game in the first five minutes of the second half,” Illinois coach Bill Self said after the Fighting Illini fell 77-74 to Memphis on Saturday.
After going to the dressing room trailing 37-31, Memphis returned to hit three straight 3-pointers and go up 40-37. At the mid-point, Memphis led by eight points, 58-50.
The Tigers (6-2) were up by eight points three times in the second half, but Illinois closed in the final minutes.
Illinois (8-1) had a chance to tie it, but Dee Brown’s 3-point attempt fell short with 2 seconds left. Brown, the team’s freshman standout, had 19 points for the game.
“They outscored us 10 points or so in the first four or five minutes of the second half and then they controlled the game the rest of the way,” Self said.
Chris Massie, in his first game of the season, scored 13 points and had 10 of his 12 rebounds for Memphis in the second period. He was academically ineligible for the first seven games.
“Massie was the best player in the game by far and he totally dominated the game,” Self said. “We were fortunate he only played 17 minutes.”
Massie declined comment after the game, but Memphis coach John Calipari said he got just what he was expecting from the 6-foot-9 senior.
“Chris Massie gives you what you need,” Calipari said.
The game was the first this season with Memphis at full strength. The Tigers have been struggling since midway through last season with injuries and players ruled ineligible for academic or disciplinary reasons.
“You finally get a chance to see our full team, the team I kept telling you I liked,” Calipari said. “I kept saying to everybody, ‘I like my team. I like my team.’ We’ve got three better wins than we did maybe all of last year already—Mississippi, Syracuse and Illinois.”
Though Illinois failed to regain the lead after the first half, Brian Cook tied it at 71 with a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 1:35 left to play.
But then Memphis came back with five unanswered points.
Cook led all players with 21 points. He hit all eight of his free throws and led Illinois with nine rebounds.
Memphis reserve Duane Erwin said the Tigers focused on Cook, Illinois’ leading scorer.
“We couldn’t let him get off. He had 21 but he had a quiet 21. He didn’t dominate us at all,” Erwin said.
Before beating Illinois, Memphis had 14 straight losses to teams in the Top 25. Illinois was the first Top 25 team to play at the Memphis Pyramid since Calipari joined the Tigers for the 2000-01 season.
John Grice and Anthony Rice each scored 16 for Memphis, which had five players in double figures. Cook and Brown were the only players in double figures for Illinois.
Both teams started slow, with Memphis hitting 33.3 percent from the field in the first half, and Illinois shooting 35.5 percent. Memphis finished at 39.7 percent and Illinois at 39 percent.
Illinois moved to No. 7 with an 85-70 victory over previously undefeated Missouri in St. Louis on Dec. 21.
Memphis’ previous victory over a Top 25 team came on March 1, 1997, when the Tigers beat No. 9 Cincinnati.
Illinois won its first eight games by an average of almost 24 points but was unable to fight back against Memphis.
“I think it was a little bit of a reality check,” Self said. “For young guys, it’s a little bit easier to play when you’re up 15 with five minutes left. Today we weren’t, so that was a good learning experience.”