Illini continue tradition of defeating Gophers



By Jon Krawczynski

MINNEAPOLIS – Trent Meacham made all five of his 3-pointers and scored 19 points as Illinois continued its dominance of Minnesota with an 84-60 victory Tuesday night.

Meacham bounced back from a 1-for-10 shooting performance in a heartbreaking double-overtime loss to Indiana last week, going 6-for-7 from the field for Illinois (11-14, 3-9 Big Ten), which has now won 18 straight games over the Gophers. That’s the longest active streak in the Big Ten.

Blake Hoffarber had 11 points for the Gophers (15-8, 5-6), who have now lost four conference games at home and likely will have to win the Big Ten tournament if they want to get into the NCAA tournament in March.

The odds on them getting an at-large bid were long coming into this one, even before they were embarrassed by an Illinois team that has fallen on hard times this season.

The Illini had lost five of their last six conference games, with the only win coming at home against lowly Northwestern. They came into Williams Arena smarting from an 83-79 loss to Eric Gordon and the Hoosiers.

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But Meacham came out firing from the start and Sean Pruitt – 13 points, five rebounds – added the muscle inside before they turned up the defense on Minnesota to break the game open in the second half.

Lawrence Westbrook added 10 points for the Gophers, who shot 57 percent in the first half but made just two of their first 16 shots of the second half in a dreadful showing.

Meacham made two 3s in a row to cap a 9-0 run for Illinois in the opening two minutes of the second half for a 48-35 lead. He added another 3-pointer in a 10-0 run moments later to stun what was an amped up crowd at the Barn, giving Illinois a 60-39 lead.

Coach Tubby Smith could only watch with his hands on his hips, not recognizing a team that played so well defensively in a convincing victory over Iowa on Saturday.

They had much more difficulty containing the athletic Illini, who made shots from the outside and beat up Minnesota down low in a complete effort. They shot 59 percent for the game and held Minnesota to 33 percent.

It was the first road win of the Big Ten season for Illinois and just the second of what has been a disappointing season in Champaign. The Illini have lost to Miami (Ohio), Tennessee State and Penn State at home.

At least for one night, that was all forgotten as a small but dedicated group of orange-clad fans who made the trip to the frigid Twin Cities cheered loudly.