Illinois 88, NC State 74
CHAMPAIGN - John Groce took a long time to make a change. But his halftime adjustment came just in the nick of time.
Groce finally seemed to find his rotation -- playing freshman point guard Te'Jon Lucas over Tate in the rotation -- and Illinois finally seemed to find what Groce has been searching for: synchronization.
Illinois (5-3) shot 67.9 percent in the second half and committed just second-half two second-half turnovers to distance itself from NC State (5-2) and end a three-game losing streak. The win in front of 13,481 at the State Farm Center also broke the Illini's three-game losing streak in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Malcolm Hill scored 17 of his game-high 22 points in the second half. The senior wing shot 12-for-15 from the free-throw line and finished nine rebounds.. Tracy Abrams finished with 17 points and shot 3-for-5 from three.
Illinois scored 39 points off the bench. Black (15 points, eight rebouns) came close to a double-double, while Coleman-Lands added 11 points (3-for-5 from three). Maverick Morgan also added nine points, six rebounds and two blocks.
Illinois claimed a 17-10 lead early, but NC State ran off a 12-2 run to take a 30-25 lead late in the first half.
Torin Abu led NC State with 17 points, while Abu Abdul-Malik added 16.
Illinois scored 17 points off 19 NC State turnovers and outrebounded the Wolfpack 30-27. Illinois shot 50 percent from the field, including 7-for-18 from three. The Illini scored 19 second-chance points on 11 offensive rebounds.
What it means
Illinois' season won't die in November. With the win, Illinois avoided earning the first four-game nonconference losing streak since 1967 and avoided its first four-game losing streak in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. More importantly, Illinois controlled a game against a quality opponent, executed its game plan and made fewer mistakes than the opposition. It may not be a marquee win -- though NC State certainly has the talent and potential to make noise in the ACC -- but it's a home win Illinois needed. They responded. Let's see if they can build momentum off of it.
What went right
Groce made the necessary adjustment, and an adjustment that most fans knew had to be made. The rotation is best with Tate -- who played nine first-half minutes and zero second-half minutes -- in a minimal role and Coleman-Lands and Black on the floor for longer stretches. This team's identity is passing and shooting. Maybe Groce has realized this team just needs to outscore people.
Hill finally got going. He'd gone 44 minutes without a field goal at the State Farm Center but found his rhythm and played like a star in the second half.
Abrams played like a veteran point guard. He scored 10 first-half points to keep Illinois' offense afloat. And though he finished with just one assist, he set up the offense well as the primary point guard in the second half.
Te'Jon Lucas (four points) continues to play well -- when he gets a shot to play. He had a bad turnover but made up with it with two field goals, including a smooth hesitation move followed by a runner. He was a plus-six on the court.
Black provides a great presence for the team on the glass. He bring fire and energy to the court too. His midrange jumper is pretty. He made 6 of 8 field goals in the second half.
The Illini big men woke up in the second half. Morgan looked much tougher and confident in the second half, when he had six points and six rebounds. Illinois needs more of that.
Illinois limited future lottery pick and freshman sensation Dennis Smith Jr. to 12 points on 11 field-goal attempts. He also committed four turnovers to three assists.
The Farm got noisy, the noisiest it's been this season. The Illini finallly gave them something to cheer about, and the Orange Krush was bouncing for most of the second half.
What went wrong
Groce was stubborn with his starting lineup and rotations and took too long to adjust. Despite terrible recent results, he continued to start Jaylon Tate. He also continues to play Mav Morgan minutes despite little production, especially on the glass.
Turnovers. Illinois couldn't take advantage of NC State's sloppy play because it matched with its own sloppy play. NC State plays an unorganized, chaotic style and Illinois gave into it and played too frenetic, forcing shots and playing out of control. At least they fixed it in the second half.
Another slow start from Hill and the big men is concerning, but they responded.
This still isn't a good defensive team, as NC State shot 52.8 percent from the field, and many of NC State's turnovers were unforced.
Illinois travels to Miami for a neutral site game against VCU on Saturday (2 p.m., CBS Sports Network). The Rams (6-1) have three straight wins over St. John's, LSU and Princeton. Second-year coach Will Wade has continued former VCU coach Shaka Smart's high-pressure defense and ranks top-30 in the country in defensive turnover percentage. The Rams currently rank 35th in the KenPom ratings and are shooting well from two (55.3 percent) and three (39.2 percent).