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Illinois 57 Minnesota 53: They Are Just Full Of Surprises

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The Illini overcome a terrible start to win their second straight game.

Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

At the risk of overstating the importance of today's game, this was a huge win for the Illini. Like a season-changing win. One that I was not expecting. Coming off the win against Indiana I figured we were doomed for a bit of a letdown just because of the emotion of the Indiana win. And for the first ten minutes of today's game, it looked like I had every right to be pessimistic.

Before the Illini scored their first field goal of the game, a Nnanna Egwu jumper from the baseline, 9:31 had run off the game clock. They found themselves down 15-6 before going on an amazing 25-15 run over the final nine minutes to take a 31-30 lead into the half thanks to a D.J. Richardson three at the buzzer.

Once they had that response to the terrible start I finally started to believe they had a chance to win this game.

And they would. Tyler Griffey has been reborn, as the Indiana game restored his confidence. As a result Griffey led the Illini with 16 points on Sunday, making four of his seven three point attempts. D.J. Richardson kept up his hot shooting as well, scoring 13 points and making three of five treys.

As a team the Illini shot only 36.7% from the floor, but 47.8% from deep. And as we know, when this team is hitting its threes, it can overcome other deficiencies.

Which it did tonight.

This was not a great game for the Illini, but for the second straight game this team didn't give in. It wasn't bothered by the adversity like it had been throughout conference play before hand.

And now this team finds itself at only 4-7 in the Big Ten, yet with a good possibility of being ranked on Monday and with a much stronger tournament resume.

There's still seven games to go, though, and they have to finish. After these two huge wins the schedule gets a lot easier with Purdue, Northwestern and Penn State. They cannot let their foot off the gas.

Other Things

-- In the first nine Big Ten games of the season Tyler Griffey scored a total of 26 points and hit 2 three-pointers. In the last two games he's scored 30 points and hit 6 threes. As I tweeted during tonight's game, this team just looks so much better when Tyler Griffey is contributing. It makes life easier on everybody.

-- D.J. Richardson has been on fire as of late. In his last six games D.J. is averaging 17 points per game while shooting 44.5% overall and 45.4% from three. His contributions can't be ignored.

-- John Groce said Tracy Abrams didn't start today's game because of how he's graded out on defense lately. Which is totally understandable. However, I don't think it's a coincidence that the offense looked so terrible to start the game when Brandon Paul was its primary ball-handler. So hopefully that dagger three that Tracy hit in the closing seconds will make sure he's in the starting lineup against Purdue.

-- We got killed on the glass by Minnesota, which I expected, but our defense was strong enough that it didn't matter. We forced Minnesota into 13 turnovers on the night and only had 7 of our own. And of those 7 Illinois turnovers, about 5 of them came in the first ten minutes.

-- Sam McLaurin took two threes today. He hit half of them. I hope he never takes another one.

-- Devin Langford hadn't played in weeks because apparently he went back in time to 1972 to get some new, awesome sideburns.

Tempo-Free Stats

Illinois

eFG%: 47.9%

Points per possession: 1.04

Turnover rate: 12.8%

Free Throw rate: 28.6%

Offensive rebound rate: 22.6%

Minnesota

eFG%: 43%

Points per possession: 0.91

Turnover rate: 22.3%

Free Throw rate: 26%

Offensive rebound rate: 38.5%

Follow The Champaign Room on Twitter at @Champaign_Room. You can follow Tom Fornelli on Twitter at @TomFornelli.