The Fighting Illini got off to a nice start on Tuesday night against #7 Villanova, but it didn't last long as the Wildcat's scrappy defense and outstanding ball movement eventually led to an early 10-2 run. That's when Malcolm Hill happened. The sophomore PF stepped up BIG TIME when the Illini needed a bucket; he willed the team back into the game with a 14 point, 3 rebound (5/7 shooting) effort in the first 20 minutes of play. Villanova's lead was cut to 6 and they entered the half with a 33-27 lead.
The second half picked up where things left off. Illinois managed to tie the game at 38-all early on, but Villanova proceeded to put together a mini-run of their own and they were able to maintain a 5-7 point lead for a majority of the half. Behind Hill and Kendrick Nunn, Illinois was again able to tie the game at 51, but it didn't last long as 'Nova drained a three on the ensuing possession. From there, the Wildcats controlled the game and didn't look back as they won by a final score of 73-59
Three Four Things We Learned
Biggest takeaway from games against good teams: #Illini aren't a deep team. Can't count on backup 4 or 5. Tate just can't score.— Jeremy Werner (@WernerESPNCU) December 10, 2014
1. Illinois has rebounding problems
The Fighting Illini need to figure something out on the defensive end--they're getting killed on the boards against quality opponents. Villanova out-rebounded the Illini 36-27 and had a total of 11 offensive rebounds.
People put a lot of the blame on Nnanna Egwu (and rightfully so at sometimes), but he's often the only one boxing out his man. The other four players have to be able to find their man and put a body into him. They cleaned some of those things up in the second half, but they have to be more consistent if they expect to do well during conference play.
2. Malcolm Hill has grown up before our eyes
The sophomore answered Illinois' call when they needed him tonight. He's had a fantastic start to the season and he's been getting better with each passing minute of game time. He finished the night with 20 points (career high), 4 rebounds, and 2 steals on 8/15 shooting. He'll be a lot of fun to watch throughout the Big Ten season.
3. This Illinois squad can compete with (almost) anyone
They showed it against Baylor in Las Vegas, they showed at #15 Miami, and they showed it again tonight against #7 Villanova. The Illini certainly had their chances to take the lead in the second half, but they were never quite able to take advantage.
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