Illinois edges Rutgers in triple overtime behind Hill's 32 points

By Eli Schwadron

It took three overtimes for the Illini to finish off the worst team in the conference.

Illinois (11-12, 3-7 Big Ten) beat Rutgers (6-17, 0-10 Big Ten) 110-101 in a sloppy-yet-entertaining contest between two Big Ten bottom-feeders. Junior guard Malcolm Hill dropped 32 points, snagged 14 rebounds and dished out five dimes Wednesday night in Piscataway, New Jersey, and the Illini escaped what would’ve been their worst loss of the season.

With the clock approaching zero in the game’s first overtime, Rutgers point guard Corey Sanders missed a three-pointer off the front rim. The freshman gathered his own rebound and put up a fadeaway trey – nothing but net to force double OT.

The Illini and the Scarlet Knights traded baskets in the second overtime period. Hill finished with 10 points in the third OT – two more points than the whole Rutgers squad could muster during the game’s final five minutes.

Hill was the MVP, but Illinois also got monster offensive contributions from junior center Maverick Morgan and freshman guard Jalen Coleman-Lands. Morgan (10-for-13 from the field) and Coleman-Lands (6-for-14 from three) each went for career highs with 20 and 26 points, respectively. Graduate senior Khalid Lewis, who’s been sharing time with fellow PG Jaylon Tate, played 45 minutes and pitched in nine points and eight assists.

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Illinois emerged from the chaos with a nine-point road win, but John Groce’s team was one Sanders free throw away from its third straight loss.

With 19 seconds left in regulation and his team down one, Groce called timeout. Hill received the ensuing inbounds pass and sank a jumper with 10 seconds to give the Illini a 74-73 lead. On the next possession, Sanders drew a foul with three ticks remaining. The freshman point guard made one-of-two from the charity stripe to send the game to its first overtime.

The frosh gave every ounce of energy in the hopes of snapping the Scarlet Knights’ 23-game Big Ten losing streak. He sliced and diced through Illinois’ defense with surgeon-like precision, finishing with a statline of 39 points, 12 assists, eight rebounds and three steals in 51 minutes. On several Sanders’ drives, Lewis looked like he was stuck in quicksand trying to keep up.

But come crunch time, Hill was in the driver’s seat.

His stellar late-game play made up for Illinois’ lazy passes, poor transition defense and breakdowns in halfcourt D, which allowed Rutgers to race out to an early lead.

Junior guard Kendrick Nunn went just 3-of-13 for 10 points, but he grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds. He suffered a hip contusion in Sunday night’s loss to Wisconsin and was a game-time decision. Forward Michael Finke missed Wednesday’s contest with a knee contusion. The victory marked Illinois’ third overtime game in its past four outings.

Apart from Sanders, Jonathan Laurent (23 points, 8 rebounds), Omari Grier (18 points) and Mike Williams (15 points, 5 rebounds) were bright spots for the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers and Illinois combined for an astounding 162 shots in the high-paced, high-energy battle.

Illinois returns to State Farm Center for a Sunday noon tilt with No.5 Iowa (18-4, 9-1 Big Ten).

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