The Illini started out the game slowly, and Minnesota led the contest for the first ten minutes until Luther Head hit his first three pointer of the afternoon and gave Illinois the 14-13 lead, a lead they would never relinquish. After that three pointer, I turned to my friend that I was watching the game with and said "this game is now over." While the Illini did not lose the lead again, they did their best to keep Minnesota in the contest. Minnesota got as close as two, 53-51 with six minutes left in the game. The Illini would hit a three pointer, and then Minnesota would answer with a two to bring the game to a three point Illinois lead, 56-53, with four minutes left. That was when Illinois finally took control and pulled away on an 8-3 run that ensured the Illini's third straight appearance in the Big Ten Tournament Championship Game, and fifth appearance in the tournament's eight years.
ILLINI OFFENSE & DEFENSE BY THE NUMBERS
On Saturday afternoon, the Illini's offense was slowed down by two things: the inability to make a shot and the ability to turn the ball over on 32% of their offensive possessions. The most startling thing on Saturday was not that Illinois struggled to shoot on the notoriously tight United Center rims, but that the normally steady Illinois guards turned the ball over a combined 11 times. The Illini finished the afternoon with 23 turnovers, setting a season high, and more than doubling their season average heading into Saturday's game. (Note: Illinois' 23 turnovers brings their season total up to 361, or 11.28 per game).
Offensive Efficiency: 90.70
Defensive Efficiency: 79.68
Offensive Rebounding Percentage: 52.78%
Defensive Rebounding Percentage: 71.43%
Percent of Turnovers (Unforced): 69.57%
As we have seen in the past from the Illini this season, when their offense is not clicking on all cylinders, they really bear down and play defense. This was definitely the case on Saturday as they held Minnesota to 36.8% shooting from the floor, and cleaned off the glass, not allowing Minnesota many second chance opportunities.
This was drastically different on the offensive side of the court, as while the Gophers held the Illini to just 35.7% from the floor, but they could not keep the Illini off the offensive glass. Since they were missing so many shots, the Illini crashed the offensive glass with a reckless abandon that led to 19 offensive rebounds, including 6 from both Roger Powell, Jr. and James Augustine who set a career high on Saturday with 14 rebounds.