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Illinois blows by persistent Rutgers, win second straight

Back to .500 for the Illini.

TCR // David Pollak

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — After a dominant showing against Northwestern earlier in the week, Illinois found a way to keep the wins coming with a 96-68 win over Rutgers. They have 8 straight quarters scoring at least 20 points and have had back-to-back wins scoring at least 90.

Driven by a vintage Genesis Bryant performance, six Illini scored in double digits, giving fans a look at how the team can play out the rest of the season without fifth-year senior Jada Peebles.

The Illini (8-8, 2-4 Big Ten) beat the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (6-14, 0-7 Big Ten) by a big margin, but it wasn’t as comfortable the whole way through as the final score suggests.

It’s the first time Illinois has scored at least 90 and won back-to-back Big Ten games since the 1998-99 season when they beat Indiana and Wisconsin. It also was the first time the Orange and Blue won back-to-back games since beating Central Connecticut St. and Northern Kentucky earlier in the year.

While Illinois has struggled with slow starts in recent weeks, it jumped out to a 10-0 lead after the tip, which gave them a cushion to play over. Six of Rutgers’ 13 turnovers came in the first quarter.

Errant passes, fouls, and an odd inability to play transition defense gave the Scarlet Knights the ability to cut the Illinois lead down to single digits, quieting the crowd of 2,845.

The lackluster transition defense kept Rutgers in the game in the second quarter.

“That’s not a time to be catching a breather,” Green said, speaking on her team’s transition defense after scoring.

Whatever Shauna Green said at halftime had to have worked.

The second half, which put Green and her staff on the side of Illinois’ offense, saw Illinois pull away, building on their lead and preventing a possible comeback.

The earlier errors in transition defense also seemed to have been patched as the teams switched directions.

“I thought we’ve been better at it the last few games. We had a quicker response in this game than we have in others,” she added.

“Our defense has been there. It’s been there since the Michigan game. Our defense has been on-point, it’s just become ‘put the ball in the basket’,” she said.

“When you score 48 points, 90 is like a million,” Green said, pinpointing the team’s 84-48 loss to Michigan earlier in the season as a turning point not just on defense but on offense, too.

“Really, it was all about getting the ball moving more,” she said. Against Northwestern, the Illini assisted 25 of their 33 field goals and assisted 17 of their 38 on Wednesday.

“You’ve gotta score 80 points just to beat some of these top teams,” she added.

The Illini didn’t jog to the finish line with a 13-point lead heading into the fourth, they sprinted. With no starters on the court and the bench players getting an opportunity to showcase their talents, they stretched the lead to as big as 30 in the fourth quarter.

The Scarlet Knights tried everything they could to crawl out of the deficit created in the first quarter. They went to the full-court press, shot the ball 14 times from deep, and found the charity stripe 20 times, but couldn’t do enough despite 26 points from Destiny Adams.

In its first game back with the Orange Krush in attendance, Illinois put on one of its best performances of the Big Ten season.

STEP UP

Jada Peebles went down with a season-ending Achilles tear in the 93-52 win over Northwestern earlier this week.

“The ref actually told me as I was walking out. She told me, ‘I think it’s [the Achilles]’,” Green said.

“It sucks for anyone, but for it to happen to a fifth-year? This is it. To go out like that,” Green said. She described a mix of emotions in the locker room following the win.

“My heart hurts for her. I love her to death,” she said. “I’m so proud of her. To see the growth she’s had off the floor is probably the most important thing to me.”

With Peebles going down, one of the players who is expected to see an increased role is freshman Gretchen Dolan.

Dolan has been known as a scoring threat since high school. She crossed the 1,000-point mark as a junior.

Despite just being a freshman, Dolan has shown an ability to shoot the ball with great confidence, and she says that’s thanks to head coach Shauna Green.

“Coach Green always just tells me to have a mindset that I am still in high school and to just play that way,” Dolan said post-game.

On Wednesday in 23 minutes of action, Dolan had 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

A red-hot (scarlet-hot?) start for the Illini.

Adalia McKenzie was a force to be reckoned with when she got downhill.

STAT STUFFERS

  • Genesis Bryant (ILL): 17 points, 4 assists
  • Adalia McKenzie (ILL): 14 points, 3 rebounds, 3 steals
  • Kendall Bostic (ILL): 12 points, 8 rebounds
  • Camille Hobby (ILL): 13 points, 7 rebounds
  • Destiny Adams (RUT): 26 points, 6 rebounds

UP NEXT

The Illini will hit the road next to take on the Maryland Terrapins on Saturday.

Tip-off is at noon and the game will be on Big Ten Plus.