Updated rapid recap: Illinois basketball edges out win over IUPUI

Illinois+Malcolm+Hill+%2821%29+shoots+a+three+during+the+game+against+IUPUI+at+State+Farm+Center+on+Tuesday%2C+December+6.+The+Illini+won+85-77.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (21) shoots a three during the game against IUPUI at State Farm Center on Tuesday, December 6. The Illini won 85-77.

By Lucas Wright, Staff writer

It seemed that a different Illinois basketball team took the court in the early goings of the team’s 85-77 win over IUPUI on Tuesday night.

Coming off a blowout win in a statement game against VCU over the weekend, the Illinois struggled to make plays on the defensive end and nearly logged another home loss against a mid-major.

“I don’t think it felt like the Winthrop game, but I did think we did some things that resembled it,” Tracy Abrams said.

The Illini jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first few minutes, but throughout the rest of the first half, Illinois struggled to defend the paint. IUPUI responded with a 20-5 run mainly on the hot hand of Matt O’Leary. O’Leary tallied 15 points in the period, and the rest of the Jaguars followed suit by attacking and dominating the Illini inside.

“I never felt like during the game we were able to settle in defensively,” head coach John Groce said. “We didn’t have the same energy and pop that we had on Saturday.

The trio of Leron Black, Malcolm Hill and Jalen Coleman-Lands paced the Illinois offense throughout the first half, combining for 30 of the team’s 41 points, but the Illini trailed 42-41 at the half. Sophomore guard D.J. Williams chipped in five points in four minutes in the first and provided a spark to keep the game close toward the end of the period.

Illinois opened the second half similarly to the first, with a couple quick buckets highlighted by two Hill fast-break dunks. The remainder of the period was a back-and-forth affair between the Jaguars and Illini, with neither gaining control of the game.

“He’s a great player, one of the best players in the country,” Abrams said. “For me, it’s just the rhythm of the game. I just put the ball in his hands. How the game was flowing he was making plays, we’ve just got to get him the ball.”

Down the stretch, Illinois turned to Hill to close out the win, and Hill responded with 23 second-half points, which included multiple clutch jumpers in the last five minutes of play. Inside the final two minutes, the Illini defense stepped up, with Morgan getting a block and Jaylon Tate getting a steal to help finish off the Jaguars.

Hill led the way for the Illini with 32 points on 11-of-18 shooting. Black chipped in 16 points and nine boards, and guard Abrams spread the ball around with six assists to go along with four steals.

The win was Illinois’ third straight, and moved the team to 7-3 on the season.

[email protected]

@LucasWright95