Illini use late push to outlast Michigan in overtime

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Illini use late push to outlast Michigan in overtime

Illinois' Kendrick Nunn (25) rises while attempting to finish a fast-break with a dunk during the game against Michigan at State Farm Center, on Feb. 12, 2014. The Illini won 64-52.

Illinois' Kendrick Nunn (25) rises while attempting to finish a fast-break with a dunk during the game against Michigan at State Farm Center, on Feb. 12, 2014. The Illini won 64-52.

Illinois' Kendrick Nunn (25) rises while attempting to finish a fast-break with a dunk during the game against Michigan at State Farm Center, on Feb. 12, 2014. The Illini won 64-52.

Illinois' Kendrick Nunn (25) rises while attempting to finish a fast-break with a dunk during the game against Michigan at State Farm Center, on Feb. 12, 2014. The Illini won 64-52.

By Sean Neumann

Illinois and Michigan went to overtime Thursday night for the second time this season. But this time, the Illini were the ones with the comeback victory.

The Illini defeated Michigan 64-52 to improve to 17-8 (7-5 Big Ten).

Illinois trailed Michigan 50-43 with just over three minutes left in the game. The Illini ended regulation on a 7-0 run to tie it at 50, but the run didn’t stop there.

Illinois’ momentum carried into overtime, and the Illini ended the game on a 21-2 run.

“We wanted to play ridiculously hard,” head coach John Groce said. “I had great peace of mind throughout the game because watching our guys, they played their tails off.”

Sophomore guard Kendrick Nunn ended the game with 21 points, with nine coming during the final 21-2 stretch.

The sophomore’s 3-pointer from the corner with just over a minute remaining sent the game into overtime and the sold-out State Farm Center crowd into a frenzy.

Illinois guard Rayvonte Rice returned from a nine-game absence and affected the game late.

“I told him we’d play it by ear and we thought maybe 15-ish,” Groce said of Rice’s minutes. “He tried to fit in and help us win, and boy did he do that.”

It took the senior until 2:54 left in the game before scoring a basket, but he grabbed two timely steals and three rebounds during the game-winning run.

Rice played with a heavily bandaged on his non-shooting hand. Michigan head coach John Beilein said he understood it would affect the senior’s shooting.

“You just keep playing through that,” Beilein said. “You just try and help your team in other ways and that’s what Rayvonte did today.”

Rice suffered a fracture in his non-shooting hand (left) in early January and then missed the last three games due to a suspension for violation of team rules alongside junior guard Aaron Cosby.

Cosby is still suspended, according to a statement released by head coach John Groce prior to the game.

“He and I continue to communicate,” Groce said in the release. “We will sit down next week when we have a break in the schedule to evaluate his role in helping our team achieve its goals.”

Illinois struggled offensively until late, shooting 24-for-62 overall, 38.7 percent. The Illini were shooting just 18.2 percent from 3-point range after the first 20 minutes.

Senior center Nnanna Egwu had 12 rebounds, four blocks and three steals Thursday night.

The Illini forced 12 turnovers and had 10 steals in the game, scoring 12 off turnovers and six on fast breaks.

Illinois will head to No. 5 Wisconsin this Sunday, with six games left in the regular season.

“We always take it one game at a time,” Nunn said. “We needed this game.”

Sean can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter at @Neumannthehuman.