Illinois needs more than just Hill’s skills

Illinois+Malcolm+Hill+%2821%29+shoots+a+three+during+the+game+against+Northern+Kentucky+at+State+Farm+Center+on+Sunday%2C+November+13.+Hill+scored+a+career+high+of+40+points+and+the+Illini+won+79-64.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (21) shoots a three during the game against Northern Kentucky at State Farm Center on Sunday, November 13. Hill scored a career high of 40 points and the Illini won 79-64.

By Matt Gertsmeier, Illini hoops columnist

Malcolm Hill might need to find some Icy-Hot after putting Illinois on his back in Sunday’s 79-64 win against Northern Kentucky.

The star forward did it all for Illinois as he scored a career high 40 points and snagged 12 rebounds. Only one other Illini scored in double digits – Michael Finke who scored 10 and had 11 rebounds.

Hill’s performance was great. He let the game come to him and didn’t try to force anything, even though he had a hot hand for the whole night. It certainly helps his cause for the Naismith Player of the Year award. Even better was that his career night helped overshadow the Illini’s mishaps.

John Groce’s voiced could be heard echoing the State Farm Center as he screamed “inside” within the opening minutes of the game.

And rightfully so.

    Subscribe to our sports newsletter!

    As the starting fives for Illinois and Northern Kentucky awaited the opening tip, the size difference was hard not to notice.

    The jump ball wasn’t even close as Illinois center Maverick Morgan standing at 6-foot-11 won it with ease against 6-foot-7 Carson Williams.

    Williams was one of three players listed at 6-foot-7, the tallest height on Northern Kentucky’s roster.

    The Norse were not intimated by the Illini’s front court in the slightest. Despite the substantial height difference, Northern Kentucky consistently drove the ball in the paint and crashed the offensive glass. Northern Kentucky outscored Illinois 16-8 in the paint and had eight offensive rebounds compared to Illinois’ five in the first half.

    That’s quite alarming to see this early in the season for Illinois.

    What happens when the Illini starts playing teams like West Virginia, NC State or Big Ten opponents that are going to have guys that can matchup?

    I understand that the Illini’s style of play is consistently reliant on outside shooting. But when shots aren’t falling and your big men tower over defenders, you need to take advantage.

    Illinois came out of halftime with a sense of urgency and looked like a completely new team. All of that was courtesy of Hill who scored 29 of Illinois’ 48 second half points.

    Free throws helped Illinois out as well. The Illini went 20-for-30 from the line as Northern Kentucky committed 28 fouls in the game.

    Illinois improved its points in the paint finishing the game with 28. The Illini also turned the ball over only nine times in the game, a huge improvement from the Southeast Missouri game. They still finished the game getting outrebounded 43-31.

    For Illinois fans tonight was all about Hill’s historic night. But past Hill’s game, it might be a frustrating wake-up call as to how the season might might play out. Illinois can’t afford to wait until halftime to get the ball rolling.

    Maybe Illinois is getting all of its bad shooting, bad fouls and bad starts out of the way before the Big Ten season starts.

    Or maybe the Illini are just getting started. They’ll just need a few more 40-point performances from Hill.

    Matt is a Junior in Business

    [email protected]

    @MattGertsmeier