Rapid Reaction: Illinois beats Minnesota

A closer look at Illinois' 57-53 win against Minnesota on Sunday.

Tyler Griffey continued his resurgent play, scoring 16 points as Illinois defeated Minnesota in a defensive back-and-forth battle on Sunday.

It was over when: Tracy Abrams exploited a mismatch. Late in the game with the Illini holding a one-point edge, Abrams found himself guarded by 6-11, 260-pound forward Elliott Eliason. With a clear advantage in quickness, Abrams first drove into the lane, then stepped back to create separation and nailed a 3 with 21 seconds left. The basket gave Illinois a 57-53 lead and was the last score of the game.

Player of the game: Griffey. The senior forward continued the momentum he created in the Indiana game. Griffey scored a team-high 16 points, going 4 of 7 on 3s and adding four free throws.

Crucial stretch: Illinois closed out the first half on a 17-4 run, taking it's first lead of the game on a D.J. Richardson 3 at the end of the period. Illinois found itself in an early hole after opening the game without a field goal in the opening 10 minutes. But the Illini remained within reach by playing well defensively. The scoring eventually came, with Richardson scoring nine points, Brandon Paul adding six and Sam McLaurin chipping in two to give the Illini the lead at halftime.

Hmmm... : McLaurin hit a 3!?! The forward entered Sunday's game without an attempted 3-point shot this season. He found himself wide open midway through the second half on a kick-out by Paul and decided to pull the trigger. The shot went in, much to the surprise of everybody watching. With the make came confidence, as McLaurin later tried his second 3 -- a miss late in the game that, thankfully for him, will be forgotten due to the win. McLaurin had never hit a 3 in a game and had taken only two in his career (both in his freshman season at Coastal Carolina).

The takeaway: The Indiana win came at a critical time, with the Illini needing to both break a losing streak and create momentum. The Minnesota victory, it could be argued, was just as important in the grand scheme. Gaining the victory on the road, Illini now has five wins against ranked opponents and not only survived the hardest portion of the schedule, but ended it with two crucial wins. At this point, a berth in the NCAA Tournament is almost assured. But more importantly, the team is beginning to play well at the right time and is picking up wins to go along with the improvement.


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