Illinois puts on great show

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Online Poster

By Lisa Koulias

The stage was set for Illinois’ 100-year celebration. All the No. 1 Illini had to do was keep the good times rolling.

And that they did.

The Illini continued the energy, and their winning streak, in an 89-66 win over Minnesota on Saturday in front of a sold-out Assembly Hall crowd and more than 350 former players, coaches and support staff.

“We always want to get the job done,” Deron Williams said. “But it’s a special night with the people in the crowd, so we wanted to win it for them too.”

Although it was hard not to get wrapped up in all the hoopla, the Illini stayed focused and came out strong from the get-go, jumping to a 10-1 lead three minutes into the game.

“We wanted to come in and take care of business so that everyone has a great feel for the weekend and the celebration,” said Illinois head coach Bruce Weber. “We did what we had to. It was a good, solid defensive effort. We shot the ball well and we were able to go inside and outside. There were a lot of positive things.”

Williams was back to his former self as the junior guard shot 7-of-10 for 18 points. He also contributed six assists and five rebounds. Coming into Saturday’s game, Williams was averaging only nine points in Big Ten play.

“I have been shooting a lot extra and I guess it’s starting to pay off now,” Williams said. “I’m going to continue to shoot with confidence and hopefully it will stay like that.”

Roger Powell Jr. led the scoring attack with a game-high 21 points, as the Illini shot 56 percent for the game. James Augustine had a solid game, contributing 15 points while Luther Head had 10.

The Gophers also had four players who scored in double-digits, led by guard Vincent Grier with 17. But the Illini held the Gophers to only 38 percent shooting.

And while the Illini are going to enjoy the celebration weekend, they all have their sights set on Michigan State.

“They know who we play Tuesday, I don’t have to say anything,” Weber said. “They are looking forward to it. They are ready to go up there. They know how big a game it is.”