Illinois 83, UIC 79
CHICAGO - Not many people saw Illinois' dogfight win over sister school UIC. The game was only broadcast on ESPN3, an internet stream, and only an official attendance of 5,151 fans witnessed the near-catastrophe.
That's probably for the better.
UIC used a 16-1 run to take a 60-55 with 9:21 left in the second half and the Illini trailed as late as 5:15 left in the game. But Malcolm Hill scored a team-high 22 points on eight shot attempts (11-for-14 FT) to help Illinois (6-5) avoid an embarrasing loss to UIC (1-6), which beat then-12th ranked Illinois 57-54 in 2010.
Jalen Coleman-Lands added 15 points, Michael Finke added 14 (all in the first half) and Kendrick Nunn scored 14.
UIC, which came into the game ranked 331 among 351 Division I teams into the KenPom rankings, came into the game with the worst effective field goal percentage in the country but shot a 48 percent against Illinois, including 9-for-15 from three (60 percent).
None of the other Division I teams UIC played this season allowed the Flames to shoot higher than 40 percent.
Dennis Dixson scored 17 of his team-high 20 points in the second half and added 10 rebounds and four assists. Dominiq Matthews scored all of his 18 points in the first half.
UIC took a 12-5 lead before Illinois stormed back to take a 41-30 halftime lead.
After its third straight win, Illinois is above .500 for the first time this season. Illinois had lost four of its previous six nonconference games at the United Center, including the 2010 loss to the Flames.
As expected, sophomore forward Leron Black missed his second straight game due to sorness and swelling in his right knee. He had surgery to remove a torn mensicus in early October. He has played in seve of 11 games so far this season.
What it means
For a program trying to win people over in Chicago, this was another embarrassment, even in victory. Illinois again allowed an inferior opponent -- a team that ranked 331st out of 351 Division I teams in the KenPom ratings -- to have a chance to beat them. This team can't be counted on to put 40 quality minutes together, and it will cost them during conference play -- just as its cost them against mid-major opponents during the nonconference. A win is a win, John Groce will surely say. And even when taking into consideration the injuries, his program is earning more doubters with each game.
What went right
Finke continues to establish himself as a great offensive weapon. He had 14 first-half points and showed off his shooting, passing and dribbling skills. Hill was highly efficient, thanks to end-of-game free throws. Coleman-Lands got his groove back after shooting 0-for-6 from three and going scoreless the previous two games. Khalid Lewis did a good job of penetrating the UIC defense, scoring eight points and dishing out a team-best eight assists.
What went wrong
Without Black and Mike Thorne Jr., the Illini again were exposed in the post. Like Yale, UIC was more physical and more athletic than Illinois in the post and domianted the glass (40 to 30). The Flames scored 32 points in the paint. Illinois again failed to identify hot shooters. Dominiq Matthews went 5-for-5 to start the game against Nunn before Illinois locked him down. Thenfreshman Dikembe Dixson went 7-for-11 in the second half. Scouting reports seem useless for this team at times.
Star of the game
Jalen Coleman-Lands: The freshman stepped up with some big shots when the Illini needed it. He's a part of the problem defensively and he's inconsistent offensively (six games with five points or fewer, including three scoreless games). But on days like Saturday, he provides an important -- and sometimes necessary - offensive boost. He has five games of 12 or more points.
The Illini have a week off to rest and focus on finals. They host South Dakota (6-3) next Saturday at 2 p.m. (ESPN3). The Coyotes won 85-81 in double overtime at Minnesota.