Egwu, Black lead Illini basketball past Purdue


Illinois’ Leron Black grabs the offensive rebound during the game against Purdue at State Farm Center on Jan. 21, 2015. The Illini won 66-57.

On a night in which Purdue played two players over 7-feet tall, it was Illinois’ big men who stood the tallest.

The Illinois men’s basketball team shut down Purdue’s two centers, holding them to a combined 10 points and nine rebounds, and came away with a hard-fought 66-57 win Wednesday night at State Farm Center because of the play of Nnanna Egwu and Leron Black.

“Those two guys played so much harder than everyone else on the floor,” Purdue’s head coach Matt Painter said. “I though that was the difference. The key to the game was Leron Black and Egwu. I thought those guys were great.”

After failing to score in the Illini’s last game, Egwu bounced back in a big way and finished the game with 11 points and seven rebounds, while also breaking the all-time Illinois blocks record — he added five blocks to bring his career total to 179.

“It’s great,” Egwu said of breaking the record. “It just speaks to my ability to stay healthy. I appreciate all the time I’ve had here.”

Black played well for the second consecutive game. The freshman forward had 15 points and a team-high 13 rebounds.

“I like to go against players that are bigger than me,” Black said. “It was a challenge and I like challenges.”

While the Illini didn’t shoot well from the field as a team, Malcolm Hill went 5-for-12 on the night and finished with a team-high 18 points. 

Illinois forced Purdue to shoot less than 25 percent from three in the game and the Illini out-rebounded the Boilermakers 43-35.

“We certainly weren’t perfect … we won a night when we shot 35 percent,” head coach John Groce said. “I thought our defense was better. Our competitive toughness was better.”

Neither the Illini (13-7, 3-4 Big Ten) nor the Boilermakers (11-8, 3-3) were productive offensively early on. Illinois shot less than 30 percent from the field and Purdue went 0-for-6 from three in the half. 

Despite the poor shooting, Illinois and Purdue were efficient from the line. Both teams went into halftime shooting more than 80 percent on free throws with 12 of the Illini’s 32 first half points coming from the charity stripe.

Neither the Illini nor the Boilermakers could pull away from one another in the second half.

Illinois mounted a run toward the end of the second half to take what looked to be a convincing lead. After trailing the Boilermakers 47-46, the Illini put together a 10-3 run to take a 56-49 lead with 3:47 remaining in the game.

Purdue answered with a three on the next possession to cut the lead to four at 56-52. But Illinois tallied four straight points to take an eight-point advantage.

The Boilermakers nailed a three to cut the lead to five before Black answered with a jumper from the right corner with less than a minute left to increase the Illini lead to seven points.

Purdue scored once more on a put back before Egwu iced the game with a transition dunk to put the Illini up 64-57.  

Just like Egwu bounced back to play well against Purdue after a zero-point performance against Indiana, the Illini followed suit against the Boilermakers, a fact that made Groce happy of his senior center and team’s performance.

“I was proud of the way (Egwu) bounced back,” Groce said. “That’s what winners do.”

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