Hill drops 40 in Illinois’ win over Northern Kentucky

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Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (21) throws up the three goggles after hitting a three-pointer in the game against Northern Kentucky at State Farm Center on Sunday, November 13. Hill scored 40 points in the Illini’s 79-64 win.

By Lucas Wright , Staff writer

Illinois basketball’s 79-64 win over Northern Kentucky was a one-man show put on by guard Malcolm Hill.

Hill, who is on the Naismith Player of the Year watch list, put up 40 points on the Norse. This tallied a new career-high, surpassing his 39-point performance last season at Penn State. It was the seventh 40-point game in Illinois history. Along with the high-scoring output, Hill tallied 12 rebounds to lead the team.

“I kind of had flashbacks to my high school days,” Hill said. “Coach is always saying I have to learn to set the tone with my actions, and I think I came out in the second half more aggressive.”

Hill was quiet throughout the first half, scoring 11 points mainly at the free-throw line. With the Illini down 33-31 at the half, Hill came out of the locker room and hit two threes in the first four minutes to help Illinois grab the lead early in the period.

While the Malcolm Hill show dominated the second half, there was a point of concern for head coach John Groce and the Illini moving forward.

Coming into the season, most of the talk swirling around the Illinois men’s basketball team was the hype around the bigger and stronger lineup. With a handful of big men, Groce was certain this year’s lineup would not have to settle for perimeter shots on the offensive end and would feed the post more often.

That highly-touted lineup had to fight for a win over Northern Kentucky, a team out of the Horizon League without a player over 6-foot-8 on the roster. Illinois was out-rebounded 43-32 and was outscored in the paint in the first half.

“It’s disappointing obviously when you have a size advantage, although that doesn’t mean that it’s going to go in your favor,” Groce said. “We have to block out better; we have to be more physical without fouling while we’re doing it.”

At times in the game, the Illini offense was non-existent, including an extended drought to end the first half, but when the team seemed lost, Hill took over.

“A lot of my isolation plays were late in the shot-clock,” Hill said. “Just the way I was feeling, I thought I could be able to get a good shot for the team.”

Hill called the shots during the Illini run in the middle of the second, commanding the ball and focusing on an isolation style of play throughout the stretch. Illinois outscored Northern Kentucky 48-31 in the second half, which featured 29 points from Hill.

Accompanying Hill with a double-double was forward Michael Finke, who finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Jaylon Tate earned a start alongside Tracy Abrams in the backcourt and tallied nine points and three assists.

The game will go down as Hill’s most dominant so far in the college ranks, but he called on his friendship with his late high school friend, Jeremiah Radford, as his motivation for the 40-point night.

“I promised I’d score 40 points for him,” Hill said. “He’s the reason I wear the number 21 jersey. So if you’re watching this one tonight, this one’s for you.”

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