On top of would-be senior guard Tracy Abrams' knee injury, which has sidelined him for the 2014-2015 season, and Rayvonte Rice's broken left hand, Aaron Cosby was determined to have retinal damage resulting from a poke to the eye against Indiana.
The short-staffed Illini were up against the wall in a must-win game in the midst of a streak of rough 2nd-half losses to start the Big Ten season. With so many players down, the Illinois starting lineup welcomed a new face, and he did not disappoint.
Freshman Leron Black, who has the nickname "Savage" because of his intensity, played up to his namesake against the Boilermakers, scoring 15 points and grabbing a career-high 13 rebounds, including 6 on the offensive glass.
Purdue, who has twin towers in the post in A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas, was a formidable matchup for the Illini front court, however Egwu and Black didn't back down. In addition to Black's 13 rebounds, senior center Nnanna Egwu achieved a big milestone in his long career, surpassing former Illini great Deon Thomas for the all-time blocks record at Illinois, recording 5 in the game to get to 178 total on his career.
Egwu also added 11 points and 7 rebounds in the game. Also notable, Malcolm Hill, who has quickly turned into the glue guy for this team, played 39 out of a possible 40 minutes in the game, leading the Illini in scoring with 18 points, converting all 6 of his free throw attempts, and dishing out four assists.
Sophomore guard Kendrick Nunn also saw extended minutes in the absence of the other Illinois shooting guards. Nunn was on the floor for 36 minutes, and while he didn't shoot particularly well (4-15), he made some timely plays and battled on the glass, bringing down 7 total rebounds.
Illinois arguably won this game at the charity stripe, though, and from 15-feet out, it wasn't even close.
The Illini made 21-of-24 from the free throw line compared to a meager 4-for-9 for the Boilermakers. The Illini also uncharacteristically took only 10 shots from three-point range, rather electing to attack the paint and draw contact.
Sophomore point guard Jaylon Tate continues his steady play, dishing out a team-high six assists to three turnovers. Though Tate is not much of a scoring threat in the half court set, he converted on all six of his free throw attempts as well and played a hard-fought 29 minutes.
It was all starters tonight for Illinois, though, as the bench managed only two points.
Defensively, the Illini held the duo of Haas and Hammons to a combined 10 points and 9 rebounds. Leading the Boilermakers in scoring were Rapheal Davis and Jon Octeus, each with 14 points. The rest of the Purdue bench scored a combined 16 points as well.
The win comes at a crucial time for the Illini. With a winnable game in what will still be a tough venue, Illinois heads to The Barn to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Saturday with the hope of returning to .500 in B1G play.