Illinois routs Minnesota, moves to Big Ten Tournament second round
March 9, 2016
tweet: One down, four to go for #Illini in Big Ten tourney
INDIANAPOLIS — In a game that wasn’t expected to be very competitive, the Illinois men’s basketball simply took care of business — and then some.
No. 12 seed Illinois (13-18, 5-13 Big Ten) routed No. 13 seed Minnesota (8-22, 2-16) in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse on Wednesday, 85-52. Illinois will move on to face No. 5 seed Iowa in the second round on Thursday afternoon.
The Illini haven’t been the overwhelming favorites in many games this season, but they clearly were on Wednesday — and played like it.
Illinois sank 14 shots from beyond the arc, marking a school record in the Big Ten Tournament. The Illini never trailed and led by as many as 37, which eclipsed their largest lead in any game this season. Their 55 percent stroke from the floor was the second-highest single-game mark of the year.
“We had contributions from everybody that stepped out on the court,” junior captain Malcolm Hill said. “A lot of those field goals that we made were assisted by, which is a plus. This was a really good game for us.”
In an offensive feast, just about everyone brought something to the table.
Freshman forward Michael Finke finally exited his prolonged shooting funk on his way to 17 points on five made threes. The sweet-shooting big man hadn’t cracked double-digit scoring since January before Wednesday’s outburst.
Junior Kendrick Nunn scored 15, freshman Jalen Coleman-Lands drilled three deep balls and Hill racked up 14 points and six boards while resting for much of the second half. All but one Illini who saw the court made a field goal, including sophomore Cameron Liss, who netted his first career field goal in garbage time.
Six different Illini made a three and all but two who played recorded an assist.
“We haven’t been able to do that a whole lot this year, it was a good feeling,” junior center Maverick Morgan said. “We were really unselfish.”
Because of a flurry of suspensions and injuries, Minnesota featured just five scholarship players and didn’t have enough fire power to stay afloat. Junior Charles Buggs led the Gophers with 12 points, and All-Big Ten freshman Jordan Murphy underwhelmed with nine points on 3-of-14 shooting.
Illinois controlled the game from the opening tip and brought a 38-20 lead into the locker room. Minnesota went through a four-minute stretch without a field goal in the final 10 minutes of the second half and could never find any semblance of an offensive rhythm.
The Illini outscored the Gophers 47-30 in the second half, which included an extended 27-5 run.
“With this current rendition, I think this is the best that this group has played together,” head coach John Groce said. “Obviously that should give them some confidence, but they’re smart enough to know that today doesn’t give you any privileges for tomorrow.”
Illinois will look to build some momentum and coax some more I-L-L chants from the Indiana crowd in Thursday’s second-round bout with Iowa.