Illini basketball gains momentum in win over Hampton


Illinois’ Kendrick Nunn (25) shoots over his opponent during the game against Hampton at State Farm Center on Dec.17, 2014. The Illini won 73-55.

The Illinois men’s basketball team needed energy Wednesday night. Kendrick Nunn provided it.

After a less than impressive loss to Oregon over the weekend, Illinois (8-3) needed regain its momentum against Hampton (4-6). Nunn, who led the Illini with 16 points, helped the Illini to a solid 73–55 win over the Pirates.

“Our team took a step in the right direction tonight,” head coach John Groce said.

Illinois benefited from a balanced offensive attack that saw Rayvonte Rice and Nnanna Egwu both score in double figures, with 12 and 10 points respectively, Jaylon Tate finish with eight and both Aaron Cosby and Hill add six of their own.

Deron Powers and Dwight Meikle led the way for Hampton as each finished with 12 points in the game.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

The Illini won the game at the free throw line, where Illinois’ aggressive play translated to 22 made free throws to Hampton’s two.

“We definitely want to get there as much as we can, because it’s more opportunities for us,” senior guard Ahmad Starks said.

Just as the team has done for the most part all season, Illinois started hot from the field. The Illini began the game with a 7-0 lead that eventually grew to 27-11.

Hampton hung around with the Illini throughout the first half as the Pirates mounted a 10-0 run of their own to cut the lead to 27-21. 

The momentum swung back in Illinois favor to close the half as sophomore guard Jaylon Tate hit back-to-back sets of free throws and Nunn ended the half with a bang on a buzzer-beating three from the corner.

After taking a 37-25 lead into the break Illinois continued to expand on its lead throughout the second half.

While Hampton cut the lead to 11 at 49-38, the Pirates couldn’t get closer and the game’s outcome never seemed to be in question.

After a string of below-average shooting performances, Illinois shot the ball at a reasonably high clip from the field and from three. The Illini finished the game shooting at 42.9 percent from both behind the arc and from the field.

On the defensive end Illinois was also solid, holding Hampton to 34.8 percent shooting from the field in the game.

I thought we did a lot of good things defensively,” Groce said. “Our guys did a really good job executing our defensive gameplan.”

Illinois only misstep in the game seemed to be its passing. The Illini committed a season-high 16 turnovers in the game, with 10 coming in the second half.

“We were a little sloppy with a bit of our passing,” Groce said. “To have 10 in the second half, that’s not us.”

With the win, Illinois continued its non-conference home winning streak, which now stands at 35 games. 

The Illini’s next test will be against Missouri in the Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis. Illinois will need to bring the same energy it did against Hampton if the Illini want to continue their winning ways against the Tigers in a game that Groce called a “heavyweight fight.”

“(I remember) the announcers talking about how crazy the atmosphere is and the number of fans there,” Starks said. “It’s going to be a war.”

Nicholas can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @IlliniSportsGuy