It took just one big push.
Illinois defeated Rutgers 66-54 on Tuesday at State Farm Center behind a 23-6 run midway through the game.
Rutgers (10-14, 2-9 Big Ten) hung in the game for most of the first half before Illinois (15-8, 5-5) erupted on a scoring stretch that extended into the second half.
“I thought that was really a big part of the game,” Groce said. “We got contributions from all eight guys.”
The Illini shot 48.1 percent from the floor. Kendrick Nunn led the way with 21 points for Illinois.
Four Illini scored in double-digits Tuesday: Nunn (21), Malcolm Hill (15), Ahmad Starks (13), and Leron Black (12).
Illini guards Rayvonte Rice and Aaron Cosby missed their second-straight game on an indefinite suspension for violating team rules.
The majority of Rutgers’ offense in the first half came from guard Myles Mack and forward Kadeem Jack, who combined for 18 of the team’s 24 points. The duo finished the game with a combined 33 of Rutgers’ 54 points.
No other Scarlet Knights finished in double figures in points.
“What they have, we don’t have a lot of,” Rutgers head coach Eddie Jordan said. “We don’t have great size and we don’t have creators other than Myles. When you have playmakers and guys who play off the dribble and can see the floor and make things happen, it’s a great bonus for your team.”
Even when the Illini went nearly four minutes scoring just two points, the game remained out of reach for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights shot just 4-for-18 (22.2 percent) from 3-point range.
Illinois shot 36.8 percent from three for the night.
Rutgers closed the deficit to eight points with less than four minutes to go in the game, but a Starks 3-pointer and two consecutive missed jumpers from the Scarlet Knights ended the threat and pushed the game back to double-digits.
Tuesday’s win gives Illinois its first consecutive victories for the first time since late December and improved to the Illini to 11-1 at home.
The Illini were 10-6 at home last season.
“Some of (the home success) has to do with last year,” Groce said. “They wanted to be better there.”
The Illini will be on the road in three of their next five games, looking to make a late-season tournament push with eight games remaining in the regular season.
“We’re getting into a rhythm,” Nunn said. “It’s February and it’s time to minimize mistakes.”