Well that went much better than I expected! The Illini entered Minnesota as 7.5 point underdogs and came out with a rather easy victory over the Gophers, 62-49.
Minnesota jumped out to a 7-0 lead early in the game, and further extended that to a 14-3 lead after roughly five minutes of game time. It was at this point that I jotted down some rather depressing ideas for this recap:
Link to positive tweets of TCR?
You'll forgive me for feeling a bit down at the time, but there won't be any need for a puppy after that performance. Following the slow start, Kendrick Nunn would bury two consecutive threes for the Illini. This foreshadowed what became Nunn's most impressive performance to date. Nunn ended up tying his career-high, finishing with 19 points on 5-of-6 shooting from three-point range. He committed a few too many turnovers, but made up for it with his hot shooting and solid defense. Oh yeah, this was fun too:
The Illini played great team defense throughout the entire game. Minnesota finished with just four threes on 25 attempts (16.0 percent), and had missed 15 consecutive long-balls at one point. Silly turnovers were plentiful for both teams, but the Gophers finished with 15 giveaways to the Illini's 11. Illinois rotated about the court as though they were on a string: everybody was locked in tonight.
Nnanna Egwu had perhaps his best game in Big Ten play, tallying four blocks and doing solid work on the defensive boards. Nnanna was also effective on the offensive end, hoisting up an array of smooth mid-range shots and jump hooks. Egwu's effort was palpable all night and it was a pleasure to see him perform up to the level many thought he'd reach this year.
|FOUR FACTORS - Team||
Unfortunately, the night was not without its negatives. Rayvonte Rice struggled mightily on offense, though he was able to make up for some of his poor shooting with a couple of steals on the other end. Maverick Morgan contributed nothing more than a few fouls and a turnover, but Egwu's great play kept him off the floor for most of the game anyway.
The Illini outscored the Gophers 38-22 in the second half (!!!), with two of those points coming from Nnanna's midrange dagger to put Illinois up eight with just two and a half minutes remaining. This was a sloppy game even by Illini standards, but hot three-point shooting was enough to put them over the top.
Make no mistake, the Illini are almost certainly not about to go on a huge run and make the tournament. Penn State, Indiana, and Illinois now sit at the bottom of the Big Ten with four conference wins apiece. This is a much-needed emotional victory for Illini hoops, but the only significant purpose it serves is to toughen Minnesota's road to the NCAA tournament. It was awesome to see the Illini comeback from the early-game adversity: hopefully they'll be able to finish the season strong and knock off Nebraska at home next week.
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