Updated rapid recap:Illinois beats Iowa 76-64

Illinois+TeJon+Lucas+%283%29+dribbles+around+his+defender+during+the+game+against+Iowa+at+State+Farm+Center+on+Wednesday%2C+January+25.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Te’Jon Lucas (3) dribbles around his defender during the game against Iowa at State Farm Center on Wednesday, January 25.

By Lucas Wright, Staff writer

Illinois head coach John Groce decided to make a change ahead of his team’sWednesday matchup with Iowa.

And did it have an effect.

Freshman point guard Te’Jon Lucas got his first crack at the starting lineup and helped lead the Illini to a 76-64 win over Hawkeyes. The lineup shakeup couldn’t have come soon enough with guard Tracy Abrams struggling on the offensive end of the floor. Lucas gave the offense a quicker tempo and crisper look, while bringing some excitement to a struggling team.

“I’m glad I was able to start, got to thank coach for that,” Lucas said. “I can’t take it for granted, and I’ve got to come in every day and keep getting better.”

“He’s a great playmaker, and I think he makes great choices out on the court,” senior Malcolm Hill said. “Looking back at my freshman year, that’s what it reminds me of honestly. As long as he keeps working hard, it’s great for our team.”

Illinois put the pedal to the metal early to put away Iowa before the Hawkeye’s even had a chance to recover. A 10-0 run highlighted by three-pointers from Lucas and Jalen Coleman-Lands brought the State Farm Center to its feet early and often.

The Illini coasted to a 40-24 halftime lead.

Although not dominating the stat sheet, Hill had as big an impact on the flow of the game in the first as anyone on the floor. He chased Iowa star and Big Ten leading scorer Peter Jok for the entirety of the court, holding him to four points in the first.

“He’s really shifty and crafty off the ball, and he’s really great with the ball too,” Hill said. “I just tried to stay attached to him as best as possible. He has some great screeners, so I just tried to find my way around those screens.”

Groce praised Hill for his coverage.

“I thought that was one of Hill’s best performances here at the University of Illinois,” Groce said.

Iowa threatened midway through the second half and late in the game, cutting the lead as low as nine. Hill also found himself in foul trouble, picking up his fourth with nearly 12 minutes to play.

However, the Lucas-led offense went on a spurt to put the game away after the Iowa mini-run.

Lucas finished with six assists, two steals and only two turnovers in 27 minutes, while Michael Finke poured in 17 points including three 3’s to lead the way for the Illini.

Maverick Morgan added 12, and Hill scored 11 while shutting down Iowa’s Jok, holding him to 10 points on 3-for-9 shooting.

“I’ve been on (the team) about mental toughness and defending for a full 40 mintues, and I thought we had exceptional energy,” Groce said. “We played better today.”

The win moved Illinois to 3-5 in Big Ten play, giving the team a chance to climb back into Big Ten play this weekend at Penn State.

“We’ve got to go out with the same energy level and mindset as we did today on Saturday,” Groce said. “We’re excited to have the opportunity.”

[email protected]

@LucasWright95