Illinois escapes Minnesota with overtime win

By Joey Figueroa

tweet: Hill’s big night led the #Illini to their second Big Ten win

For two teams itching for an always elusive conference victory, Illinois and Minnesota had to wait longer than expected to determine a winner on Saturday night. The Illini seemed to want the dub just a little more and pulled away in overtime for a 76-71 win on the road.

After clawing their way back into the game with five unanswered points to force overtime, Illinois remained relentless with a 9-0 run to begin the extra period.

Junior Malcolm Hill led all scorers with 28 points, nine of which helped Illinois separate itself during the overtime period. The do-it-all forward also ripped down 10 boards for a double-double and netted 13-of-14 from the free throw line.

It was a game of runs, and neither squad looked better than the other for more than five minutes at a time. After securing a 35-30 lead to close out the opening half, the Illini took their foot off the gas, and the Gophers opened the second period on an 11-4 run to retake the lead.

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Junior guard Kendrick Nunn broke a long shooting spell with back-to-back threes to give the Illini a 49-46 lead with 13 minutes remaining.

The Gopher offense grew stagnant once again, going almost five minutes without scoring until sophomore Nate Mason single-handedly brought them back to life. The sweet-shooting guard went on a personal 11-0 run, including three straight makes from deep, to give Minnesota the lead yet again.

One final Illini run that bled into the overtime would prove to be the difference maker.

Illinois won the battle on the glass 49-38. Big men Maverick Morgan and Michael Finke combined for 23 boards, and Morgan also pitched in 14 points.

Minnesota jumped all over Illinois early. The Illini found themselves down 10 after an 11-2 Gopher run in the opening minutes and couldn’t find a groove on the offensive end—Illinois shot 3-for-12 from the field with six turnovers in the first ten minutes.

With a quick switch to a zone defense, Illinois dared Minnesota to take deep shots, and the Gophers lived up to their billing as the worst shooting team in the in the Big Ten—they shot 3-14 from beyond the arc in the first half. Minnesota’s extended stretch of bricks led to a 21-6 Illini run that gave Illinois a 35-30 lead heading into the locker room. Hill’s 11 points led all first half scorers.

Saturday night’s win was Illinois’ 12th in Minnesota since 2000, which leads all Big Ten teams. It was also the Illini’s first road win of the season.

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