Chicago, IL – Illinois has yet to regain its shooting touch from beyond the arc, but escaped the United Center with a win due to the aid of the foul line.
Tracy Abrams hit 13 of the Fighting Illini's 27 made foul shots and finished with 27 points in No. 12 Illinois' 81-79 triumph over Auburn.
Illinois finished at a 67.5 percent clip (27-of-40) from the charity stripe, while the Tigers attempted 24 fewer from the line (10-of-16).
Abrams added eight rebounds, five assists and four steals for the Illini (13-1), who shot just 26.7 percent (4-of-15) from three after a porous 25 percent effort (8-of-32) coming off their lone loss of the campaign to Missouri last Saturday.
Illinois, coming in tied for the top spot in the country with 9.8 3-pointers per game, shot 41.9 percent from downtown over its first eight contests, but had hit on just 29.7 percent of its attempts in December heading into today.
Frankie Sullivan sunk five triples and netted 21 points to lead the Tigers (5-7), who have dropped six of their last nine contests.
"They didn't press us one time and we had over 20 turnovers," Auburn coach Tony Barbee lamented.
The Illini led by as many as 11, but Auburn fought back and Allen Payne's three-point play followed by Sullivan's triple a few possessions later pulled Auburn within 68-67 with 4:28 left in the game.
Illinois, though, took advantage of the foul line to put the game away.
The Illini didn't make a field goal over the final 6:07 of the contest, but nailed 13 of its 20 free-throw attempts -- Abrams sunk 7-of-8 -- during that span, with Abrams' foul shot giving Illinois an 81-76 edge with 12 ticks left.
Sullivan's trey at the buzzer accounted for the final margin.
"I just feel like we have a lot more weapons (this year) and a lot more confidence, not only in myself but the guys that I play with," said guard Brandon Paul, who finished with 13 points. "They come in with the mindset that they're going to compete every game and play hard and what's going to dictate the end of the game is how we play."
Earlier, neither squad led more than three over the opening 12-plus minutes until Abrams' layup made it 32-27 in favor of Illinois with 7:19 to go in the first half. The Illini headed into the break with a 47-42 cushion.
Illinois shot 48.1 percent (25-of-52) from the floor, while Auburn finished at a 48.3 percent clip (29-of-60) from the field ... Payne tallied 10 points and 10 rebounds.