Illinois 76, Minnesota 71 OT
MINNEAPOLIS - MINNEAPOLIS - Illinois needed a buzzer-beating three to beat Chicago State (4-19). It played to the wire in a four-point win over UIC (2-16). It almost blew a 20-point second-half lead in a five-point win at Missouri (8-11).
The Illini have struggled to beat bad teams all season. They did again on Saturday, but they did beat the bad team in an amazing fashion.
Illinois (10-10, 2-5 Big Ten) trailed Minnesota 60-55 with 2:03 remaining but went on a 16-0, forcing overtime and blowing out Minnesota (6-14, 0-8 Big Ten) in overtime at Williams Arena. The game extends Minnesota's losing streak to nine and ends the Illini's eight-game road losing streak.
Malcolm Hill led Illinois with his fourth double-double of the season with 28 points and 10 rebonds. He went 13-for-14 from the free-throw line.
Michael Finke scored nine points and hauled in a career-high 16 rebounds. Maverick Morgan had a Big Ten career-high 14 points and seven rebounds. Kendrick Nunn added 13 points.
Joey King led the Gophers with 20 points, while Nate Mason added 19.
The game had many runs. The Illini fell behind 24-14 but went on a 21-6 run to close the first half with a 35-30 lead.
The Illini went on a 10-0 second-half run to claim a 53-46 lead with 10:23 remaining through the second half, but Minnesota answered with a 14-2 run over the next 9:13, putting Illinois on the edge of another possible program-deflating defeat. But the Illini answered with the game-extending and game-clinching 16-0 run.
Illinois, which shot 43.3 percent from the field (6-for-18 three), held Minnesota to 39 percent shooting and dominated the rebound battle 49-38.
More than 100 Orange Krush members made the trip to Minneapolis on multiple buses. The Illini waved to the student section after the game.
What it means
The Illini beat a bad team on the road, and they won a game they needed to win. They took a few swings from a lightweight and had enough power to swing back a couple times. But Minnesota did a lot to help Illinois in that regard, and Illinois failed to deliver the knockout blow midway through the second half due to poor decisions and letdowns on defense. The Illini have struggled to bury bad teams all season and needed overtime to do it on Saturday, despite the Gophers greatest efforts. The win may keep the pitchforks at bay for a few days. But the Illini still showed a lot of flaws that have led them to a .500 record 20 games into the season.
What went right
The Illini packed it in with a zone defense and forced the Gophers to beat them from the outside. The Gophers made 11 threes, but needed 36 attempts to do it. The defense also allowed Illinois to dominate the glass, hauling in 39 of 47 possible rebounds on Minnesota's end.
The Illini "big" lineup worked. Morgan had the best Big Ten game of his career (he had 10 points and 8 rebounds in 13 minutes against Northwestern last season). He had seven rebounds after accumulating just six rebounds in his first 100 minutes of Big Ten play this season. Michael Finke looked more comfortable playing the four, not having to bang in with the biggest post players. And Hill, finding more matchup advantages playing the three, played like the star Illinois needs every night (an Evan Turner Lite) -- even moreso with Nunn in a funk.
Though he is oft-derided for his lack of scoring punch, Jaylon Tate showed why coach's trust him. He had six assists and did not turn the ball over once in a career-high 40 minutes.
The Illini showed resilience, focus and some toughness. Mistakes almost overshadowed those qualities. But if the Illini bring those things consistently, they at least give themselves a fighter's chance.
What went wrong
The Illini dug themselves an early hole due to many of their recent issues: players going one-on-one too much and forcing shots. The Illini also were a bit careless with the ball (13 turnovers), which is out of character. If there's one thing the Illini are great at, it's taking care of the ball (entered the game No. 5 in Division I in turnover rate).
Nunn is in a rut (13-for-40 the last three games). Maybe the new dad isn't getting much sleep. But he's taking bad shots and has been careless with the ball. He was benched early in the second half for Coleman-Lands.
Star of the game
Morgan: With Mike Thorne Jr. -- who returned to play his first game on Tuesday after undergoing surgery to remove a torn meniscus in late November -- absent due to soreness in his knee following Thursday's practice, Morgan gave the Illini the offensive punch and rebounder (surprise) they sorely needed.
The Illini head home for two game against fallen Big Ten powers: Ohio State and Wisconsin. If the Illini are going to gain any kind of momentum as a program, they must protect home court against non-elite teams -- something they didn't do against Nebraska in their last home game. Ohio State (No. 75 in KenPom) and Wisconsin (No. 64) are better than the Illini, but they are very beatable. The Illini had a great effort, especially on defense, in a 75-73 loss at Ohio State, they just didn't execute enough to win. They need to bring that kind of effort back in front of their home crowd. The Buckeyes have lost three of their last four -- at Indiana, at Maryland and at Purdue -- by a combined 71 points, with the one win coming at home against lowly Rutgers.