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Throwback Thursday: Malcolm Hill leads Illini to upset win

Let’s take a look back at a former Illinois star’s first breakout performance.

Mike Granse/USA TODAY Sports

In honor of former Illinois small forward Malcolm Hill’s contract extension with the Chicago Bulls just a few weeks ago, let’s go back to one of the high points of his incredible career with the orange and blue.

The day is January 7, 2015.

The Fighting Illini men’s basketball team had a good start to the year, but injuries began to plague the Illini as Rayvonte Rice, their leading scorer (17.2 PPG) and rebounder (6.8 RPG), broke his left hand earlier that week in practice, leaving him out indefinitely.

Coming into the 2014-15 season, veteran point guard Tracy Abrams was looking to join fellow upperclassmen Rice in leading the Illini back to the NCAA Tournament after missing it the previous year.

However, tragedy struck in September—Abrams went down with a torn ACL in preseason workouts, forcing him to miss the whole season.

Rayvonte Rice (green) and Tracy Abrams (red) watching their team while sidelined with injuries

The location is Champaign—the State Farm Center.


The Fighting Illini (10-5, 0-2), coming off tough road losses to Michigan and No. 20 Ohio State in their first two Big Ten games, were desperate to get into the win column for conference play. On this Wednesday night, the injury-plagued Illini were staring at one of their toughest tests of the young season thus far.

The No. 11 Maryland Terrapins (14-1, 2-0) began the season on an absolute tear, led by the high-scoring trio of Melo Trimble, Richaud Pack, and future-NBA draft pick Jake Layman. The Terps were looking to continue this incredible start, which had matched Maryland’s 1972-73 team for the best 15-game start in program history.

Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

A Terrapin win would likely secure their first top-10 ranking in nearly 11 years. They came came into Champaign with that goal in mind.

Without their leading scorer, who would the Illini look to against this high-powered Terps team?

The answer? Malcolm Hill.

Game Time

The first 20 minutes featured both teams going at each other in a back-and-forth first half, including three lead changes and four ties.

After a quick start by the Terrapins led to an early 23-17 lead, the Fighting Illini defense limited the high-caliber offense for the remainder of the first half, cutting their deficit to 28-26 going into the locker room.

Opening up the second half, the Illini were still in search of a difference maker with Rice gone. Sophomore Malcolm Hill provided the spark.

Hill scored the first 5 points of the second half with a pair of jumpers, giving the Illini a 31-28 lead. The forward kept pouring it on, with another 5 points on back-to-back possessions to give Illinois its biggest lead at 39-31 with 13:39 left in the game.

Hill’s domination forced Maryland to call a timeout, but did that stop him? No sir.

The next Maryland possession was halted by a Kendrick Nunn steal, and Hill did the rest, hitting yet another jumper to give Illinois a 10-point lead.

Hill was virtually unstoppable, scoring 12 of the Illini’s first 15 points of the 2nd half. The upset-minded team continued to pour it on, going on a 20-3 onslaught to start the second half, taking a commanding 46-31 lead with 12:10 remaining.

“We had no one to match up with Hill,” Turgeon said. “I challenged my guys at halftime to guard him, and obviously that didn’t happen.”

Austin Yattoni/Daily Illini

With the Orange Krush as loud as ever, the Illini didn’t look back. Aided by another 6 points from Hill, the Illini would hold on to beat the Terrapins 64-57.

Averaging just 4.4 PPG in his freshman year, this game was a statement for Hill. His 18-point second-half outburst gave him a career-high 28 points, providing the team with a much-needed source of leadership and one of its biggest wins in recent memory.

When asked about Rice’s injury a day before the game, Hill was locked in.

“See how we can handle adversity,” Hill said. “We’re gonna figure out how to win tomorrow.”

And win they did.

At a time when this Illinois team needed him most, Malcolm Hill stepped up, and this game jumpstarted what would be a great career for Hill. He continued to wow the Illinois faithful over the next three years, eventually setting new career-highs of 39 and 40 points.

He has continued to fight against adversity in his basketball journey, and his hard work has now brought him to the NBA.

For highlights of the game, check out the link below: