The BYU Cougars dropped another close neutral court affair as they fell to Illinois 75-73 in Chicago Saturday night.
After trailing most of the way, the Cougars had a chance for the win, but a half-court shot from Nick Emery just missed the mark as time expired.
The Fighting Illini used a balanced offensive attack to outlast the Cougars as five players scored in double figures.
Tracy Abrams led the way with 15 points, four rebounds and four assists while Maverick Morgan registered 14 points and 10 rebounds off the bench.
Eric Mika paced the Cougars with 25 points on 9-for-12 shooting from the floor and 7 for 8 from the free-throw line while adding eight rebounds.
Nick Emery added 16 points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals, while TJ Haws chipped in with 10 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Why the Cougars lost
The Cougars had plenty of opportunities, but just didn't make the plays they needed down the stretch to overcome the slow start. A huge part of that was on the backboards where the Illini turned 10 rebounds into 16 second-chance points.
The turning point
With the Cougars trailing 18-13 midway through the first half, Mika grabbed an offensive rebound, but picked up his second foul while going back up with it. Illinois went on a 19-8 run with Mika on the bench to turn a five-point lead into a 16-point advantage.
What it means
It was the last chance the Cougars had in the non-conference to get a key neutral floor win over a quality opponent.
While it doesn't seem like much now, it means BYU has to do that much more during WCC play to have a chance to make another NCAA Tournament run.
Yoeli Childs had another really solid effort for the Cougars in the loss with eight points, a team-high nine rebounds, three blocks and a pair of steals.
Grading the performances
The Cougars came back from the early deficit thanks to another big performance from Mika, but still need to figure out how to get things done when he is off the floor.
One of the reasons they were able to make it a game was because they shared the basketball with 22 assists on 26 made baskets.
On the down side, they gave up too many easy baskets on second-chance points or off turnovers.
After taking the big first-half lead, the Illini did just enough to come away with the hard-fought win.
They won the rebounding battle 39-36, made key 3-point shots when needed and converted on BYU turnovers to improve to 9-3 on the season.
Three telling stats
Illinois got great play off the bench with 28 points to just seven for BYU.
While the Cougars turned the ball over just 12 times, Illinois turned those miscues into 21 points.
The Cougars struggled from the outside again as they connected on 7 of 22 shots from beyond the arc.
BYU is back at home on Tuesday night as the Idaho State Bengals come to town. The Bengals are 2-8 on the season, with their only wins coming over Lamar and Montana Tech.
Players to watch for the Bengals are Ethan Telfair and Geno Luzcando.
Telfair is averaging 16.3 points, 5.4 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 3.0 steals while Luzcando chips in with 10.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.8 steals.