After three years of construction and maintenance, the newly renovated State Farm Center held an official rededication ceremony on Tuesday night. The Illinois Fighting Illini celebrated the occasion with matchup against a young and talented N.C. State squad as part of the annual Big Ten vs. ACC Challenge. Against all odds, the Orange and Blue managed to outscore the Wolfpack 56-41 during the second half en route to an 88-74 victory, snapping a three-game losing streak in the process.
Illinois (5-3) overcame somewhat of a lethargic start due to 13 first half turnovers by N.C. State (5-2). The back-and-forth affair featured a 33-32 lead for Mark Gottfried’s squad at the break, however the Fighting Illini came out gunning from the locker room. The good guys shot 68% from the field over the final 20 minutes, and although N.C. State had their chances to get back into the game, the lead proved insurmountable down the stretch.
The Orange and Blue’s defense wasn’t stifling by any means, but poor ball security ultimately doomed the Wolfpack; 19 turnovers prevented any sort of consistent offense while directly resulting in 17 points for Illinois. When asked about the backcourt matchup, Gottfried stated that, "The game was experienced versus inexperienced. I thought we played like an inexperienced team."
Malcolm Hill led all scorers with a game-high 22 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists on 5-12 shooting (12-15 FT). It was a great all-around team effort, but it was particularly great to see Hill get back on track after a brutal week in the scoring department. Illinois’ bench outscored N.C. State 39-22 thanks, in part, to Leron Black, who logged 15 points and 8 rebounds on 7-14 shooting from the field.
Additionally, we may very well have seen the beginning of a long overdue rotational strategy from John Groce. Starting guard Jaylon Tate played, I guess, serviceable defense against star freshman Dennis Smith Jr. during the first half, however he had another poor night on the other end. This prompted Groce to insert Te’Jon Lucas into the lineup, and he accounted for 4 points and 2 steals in 16 minutes. Tate didn’t receive any playing time during the second half.
Next up for Illinois is a neutral site matchup in Miami against the VCU Rams. The contest will take place at American Airlines Arena on December 3; opening tip has been scheduled for 2:00pm CT and the contest will be broadcasted on CBSSN.