Nunn, Egwu propel Illinois to road victory over Minnesota

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  • Illinois’ Jon Ekey goes for the ball against Minnesota at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. Editor’s Note: A previous version of this caption incorrectly stated that the Illinois game against Minnesota took place at Mariucci Arena. The game took place at Williams Arena. The Daily Illini regrets the error. 

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Freshman guard Kendrick Nunn represents what could possibly be a bright future for the Illinois basketball program this season. His solid performances have made Illini Nation more optimistic about what lies ahead. But Nunn isn’t worried about the future; he’s too busy leading the present Illini squad.

Nunn, with the help of Nnanna Egwu, helped Illinois leave Minnesota with a huge 62-49 win on Wednesday.

Illinois started this game slow, as they have countless other times this season. Minnesota led 14-3 just seven minutes into the game as Illinois was getting run out of the building. We’ve seen this narrative over and over again for the Illini as yet another ugly loss appeared to be on the horizon.

That’s when Nunn decided to flip the script.

The athletic freshman drained his first 3-pointer of the game off a Joseph Bertrand pass, giving the Illini their first glimpse of hope. Nunn would hit another 3-pointer in the face of a Minnesota defender a couple possessions later. He was just feeling it Wednesday night, and there was nothing Minnesota could do about it.

Illinois would end the half at 21-13, behind nine points from Nunn, who led all scorers; although, the freshman’s heroics weren’t done quite yet.

A Nunn 3-pointer once again sparked the Illini. This time, his 3-pointer ignited a 12-0 Illinois run that flipped this game on its head. Nunn scored eight points in the stretch. Nunn showed off everything he’s got in that run.

Nunn’s stroke is beautiful. His high-arcing, smooth, lefty release is hard to defend and is pretty when it drops in. Nunn was impartial with the location of his 3-pointers, first hitting one on the right wing and then splashing a longball from the corner. As long as he’s in rhythm, Nunn could shoot it from anywhere. He also displayed his athleticism on a fast break dunk that led to an eruption from the bench. The kid just has it. He led all players with 19 points and five 3-pointers.

Nunn didn’t single-handedly carry the Illini; Egwu did some heavy lifting as well.

Egwu has figured something out as of late, and John Groce and Co. couldn’t be any happier with the results. Egwu followed up his 14-rebound performance against Ohio State with 14 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks against Minnesota.

You could just see the confidence in Egwu’s approach. He wasn’t afraid to hit a jumper or get in the face of a Minnesota big man. This was easily the most physical Egwu has played all season long. Even when Minnesota was able to get into the paint, Egwu was there and ready to disturb any shot in his vicinity. It’s refreshing to see Egwu finally starting to use his tremendous length.

Illinois is still last in the Big Ten and only has a record of 15-12, but there’s still something to fight for this season.

Minnesota isn’t just another Big Ten team. The Golden Gophers entered this game with a 17-9 record and wins over Ohio State and Wisconsin this season. Illinois took on the challenge and persevered. Despite its record, Illinois still has something to play for, and they proved that Wednesday night.

Michael is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @The_MDubb