FINAL: Illinois 57, Minnesota 53
Tyler Griffey capped a terrific week for Illinois with 16 points, and the Illini went 11 for 23 from 3-point range in a 57-53 win over No. 18 Minnesota on Sunday night.
Three days after Griffey’s buzzer-beating layup gave Illinois (17-8, 4-7) a 74-72 victory over No. 1 Indiana, Tracy Abrams swished a step-back 3-pointer with 18 seconds left to stretch the lead over Minnesota to four. Abrams came off the bench for the first time this season after failing to score against the Hoosiers.
D.J. Richardson had 13 points and Brandon Paul added 10 points for the Illini, who ended a 10-game losing streak on the road against ranked Big Ten teams. Their last such win was three years ago at Wisconsin.
Austin Hollins had 16 points and four steals for the Gophers (17-7, 5-6), who lost for the sixth time in eight games and could find themselves out of the Top 25.
Trevor Mbakwe had 13 points and 10 rebounds but four turnovers, none more costly than with 50 seconds left and Illinois leading by a point.
Double-teamed down low, the sixth-year senior pivoted and threw a two-handed pass across the court that sailed out of bounds. Abrams scored on the next possession, and Hollins air-balled a 3-pointer after that.
The Gophers played without senior forward Rodney Williams, whose shoulder injury kept him out of a game for the first time in nearly three years.
That forced coach Tubby Smith into some awkward lineup combinations, and the reserves again struggled to establish a rhythm or avoid stagnant, sloppy possessions.
Elliott Eliason, who filled many of Williams’ minutes, had 10 rebounds, three assists and two blocks and swished a mid-range jumper with 2:22 left to pull the Gophers within one point. But the Gophers didn’t get enough help.
Andre Hollins and Joe Coleman combined to shoot 3 for 18 from the floor.
The Gophers, who won at Assembly Hall 84-67 last month while holding the Illini to 3-for-24 shooting from 3-point range, were trying to beat Illinois twice in the regular season for the first time since 1996. They led by as much as 13-2 and 26-14 in the first half.
But they found themselves trailing 31-30 at the break after a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Richardson, his third in the final four minutes of the half. That fueled a 20-4 run by the Illini that didn’t end until a dunk by Mbakwe well into the second stanza, ending a skid of more than 71/2 minutes by the Gophers without a basket.
As the only team in the nation with three wins over opponents ranked in the top 10 of the most recent Associated Press poll, the Illini have showed off their shooting-driven skills several times this season, with those wins over Butler, at Gonzaga and against Ohio State even before the takedown of Indiana.
What they hadn’t done yet is proven they can play consistent enough defense to pull out gritty victories when the performance isn’t so pretty. Those losses at Purdue and at home against Northwestern could haunt them come NCAA tournament selection time.
The Illini didn’t make a shot from the field until 91/2 minutes were gone in the game, when Nnanna Egwu’s baseline jumper bounced off the rim and dropped in.
The Gophers didn’t run very many crisp half-court sets, particularly when all or most of the five guys on the floor were from the second group.
Most of their scoring came either in transition after a miss or a turnover or when the Illini defense lost track of someone on a back-door cut.
Richardson made consecutive 3-pointers from the same place on the left wing on fast breaks that developed from rebounds of tough shots by the Gophers at the end of disheveled possessions, and then Sam McLaurin held his spot in the lane as 6-foot-10, 290-pound Maurice Walker powered past him for a basket. The charge was called, and Illini coach John Groce was so happy he gave McLaurin a bear hug at the timeout.
Paul found space in the lane for a layup right after that, and suddenly the Illini were within 26-24. — AP
McLaurin 1-4 2-2 5, Egwu 3-5 0-0 6, Paul 3-10 2-4 10, Richardson 4-9 2-4 13, Bertrand 1-3 0-0 2, Abrams 2-9 0-0 5, Griffey 4-9 4-4 16, Henry 0-0 0-0 0, Langford 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-49 10-14 57.
Mbakwe 4-9 5-6 13, Eliason 2-3 0-0 4, Au. Hollins 6-11 2-3 16, Coleman 1-8 1-2 3, An. Hollins 2-10 2-2 8, Osenieks 0-1 0-0 0, Ingram 0-0 0-0 0, Welch 2-3 0-0 5, Walker 1-3 0-0 2, Ahanmisi 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 19-50 10-13 53.
Halftime—Illinois 31-30. 3-Point Goals—Illinois 11-23 (Griffey 4-7, Richardson 3-5, Paul 2-6, Abrams 1-2, McLaurin 1-2, Bertrand 0-1), Minnesota 5-17 (An. Hollins 2-5, Au. Hollins 2-7, Welch 1-2, Osenieks 0-1, Coleman 0-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Illinois 26 (Abrams 6), Minnesota 39 (Eliason, Mbakwe 10). Assists—Illinois 11 (Abrams 6), Minnesota 10 (An. Hollins 4). Total Fouls—Illinois 15, Minnesota 16. A—14,625.
Illinois 45, No. 18 Minnesota 40 — 10:11 second half
Sam McLaurin hit a three-pointer, by the way.
Slow start to the half by the Illini. They had six points eight minutes in, threes from Griffey and McLaurin.
Maybe they’re just playing it like they played the first half.
Just as he did to start the game, Joe Coleman missed a shot really bad to start the second half. As it was going up, the entertaining fans behind me yelled “Hit something!” When he missed it, it was, “Un-freaking-believable!”
Coleman is really struggling. He appears to have little confidence on the offensive end right now.
Tracy Abrams, who started the second half after not starting the game, got upset with the officials after being called for a foul. Richardson grabbed him to calm him down and keep him from possibly getting a technical.
Griffey also started the second half. Bertrand and McLaurin did not.
Those entertaining guys behind me were at it again. This time talking about Tyler Griffey after the senior hit another three “He doesn’t miss!”
Funny how things have changed.
The guys behind me are debating how much of Minnesota’s recent struggles are Tubby Smith’s fault.
The Gophers have lost five of seven, but four were to Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Michigan State.
“Tubby can’t make threes,” the one guy said.
Oh, and with 10 points, Brandon Paul is now 10th on Illinois’ all-time scoring list, passing Efrem Winters.
Illinois 31, No. 18 Minnesota 30 — Halftime
D.J. Richardson’s three-pointer at the halftime buzzer gave the Illini the lead going into the locker room. Who woulda thunk after they were scoreless at the first media timeout?
Paul and Richardson met at halfcourt for a flying chest bump as the team exploded onto the floor in celebration.
The seniors have really stepped up the last couple of games.
Illinois’ first field goal came from Nnanna Egwu at the 10:30 mark.
No Rodney Williams for the Gophers, but Trevor Mbakwe has been a problem for them so far.
Illinois has really been focusing on guarding hard without fouling. They’re didn’t do a great job of that early today.
One of the fans behind we adamantly argued a foul call against Minnesota. “What do you mean?!?” he screamed. He then followed that up with “I didn’t even see the play, what happened?”
After D.J. Richardson’s three-pointer before the under-4 timeout, John Groce turned to his guys on the bench to get them going. D.J. responded with another triple on the next possession to cut the lead to four.
The Gophers are killing the Illini on the offensive glass.
Sam McLaurin and Nnanna Egwu have each taken charges today. Pretty big calls considering both Illinois big men have two fouls apiece.
The fans here apparently don’t like Brandon Paul after he and Mbakwe got tangled up on a free throw block out.
They’re booing him whenever they get the chance. He quieted them with a deep three late in the half.
Devin Langford played late in the half on the defensive end for Brandon Paul, who was playing with two fouls. He’s got some sweet porkchop sideburns. Makes him look like he’s playing in the ABA.
Illinois shot 9 for 24 (37.5 percent) for the half and 5 for 10 from beyond the arc.
Minnesota was 10 for 28 (35.7 percent) and 2 for 8 (25 percent) from three.
The Gophers lead the rebounding battle 20-14 with 10 offensive boards.
Illinois turned it over five times, Minnesota seven.
No. 18 Minnesota 13, Illinois 4 — 11:55 first half
There are fans sitting directly behind us today and they are going to be entertaining. They delivered an awesome rendition of the National Anthem and after Joe Coleman hit nothing but backboard on the first shot of the game, “Geez, how do you miss that bad?” they asked in the heaviest of Minnesota accents.
Coleman has since passed up a few open looks and they all shout about how he is a horrible shooter.
Tracy Abrams was the first Illini off the bench along with Tyler Griffey.
That early turnover that Brandon Paul made is the kind that drives fans bonkers.
Rodney Williams has a shoulder injury, that’s why he didn’t start. Not sure if we’ll see him at all tonight.
Andre Ingram and Oto Osenieks were the first Minnesota subs.
Illinois didn’t get on the board until the 15:12 mark when Tyler Griffey’s free throws made it 8-2.
I’ve noticed for a while that teams seem to have real trouble inbounding the ball against Illinois.
That’s one of the positives so far from this one.
Tyler Griffey has scored Illinois’ last six points over the last 8 minutes, 5.9 seconds.
The people on the Kis Cam here really get after it. We’re talking full-on making out in a lot of instances. That’s true love. I felt naughty watching it.
Illinois (16-8, 3-7) at No. 18 Minnesota (17-6, 5-5) — Tipoff (BTN)
In the previous update, I hinted at a change to the Illini starting lineup. Here it is.
Illinois’ starters today are Brandon Paul D.J. Richardson, Joseph Bertrand, Sam McLaurin and Nnanna Egwu.
Tracy Abrams will come off the bench today for the first time this season.
Abrams didn’t score in Thursday’s win against the top-ranked Hoosiers and he was on the bench for most of the decisive stretch.
There’s a large section of Illinois fans in the southeast balcony. There’s orange all over the arena, so expect some cheers when Illinois scores. It won’t be as loud as the Indiana cheers at the Assembly Hall from Thursday, but I’m guessing the Illinois folks will be vocal.
Brandon Paul made a halfcourt shot before retreating to the locker room for the final time before introductions. D.J. Richardson tried and tried, but he couldn’t get one to go down.
Ted Valentine is one of your officials today.
The fans here spell “Minnesota” for us all here during the school song just in case us visitors were unsure of how to spell it. It’s much appreciated.
Goldy is a good dancer.
Shannon Ryan from the Chicago Tribune and Herb Gould from the Chicago Sun-Times are the other print folks covering Illinois who are here today. Read their stuff tomorrow.
Aaron Bennett from WCIA in Champaign made the drive up today. Took him close to 10 hours because of the weather.
I’d say it’s about 85-90 percent full here.
The students yell “GOPHERS” at the end of the National Anthem after the part that says “Home of the…”
See you midway through the half with an update.
Illinois (16-8, 3-7) at No. 18 Minnesota (17-6, 5-5) — 30 minutes before tipoff (BTN)
By the way, who should be No. 1 this week? I’m leaning toward leaving Indiana there after winning at Ohio State today.
It seems like everyone in the top 15 lost this week. Just as my plane landed here in Minneapolis yesterday, I turned my phone on and it was blowing up with people telling me about the Michigan-Wisconsin game. I made it off the plane in time to watch overtime from an airport bar. Such an amazing day in college hoops.
Miami, which I underranked at 12 last week, might move all the way up to No. 2 on my ballot tomorrow. The Hurricanes are for real.
Bill Self’s hair(piece) must be falling out. The fifth-ranked Jayhawks have lost three straight.
I spoke to former Illini Eddie Johnson a little bit ago. Johnson’s calling the game for the Big Ten Network tonight along with Kevin Kugler.
Johnson was on the first Illinois team to beat the No. 1 team in the country. Johnson’s Illini knocked off Magic Johnson’s Michigan State squad in 1979.
He said that win was probably the most important win in program history at the time.
He also says Tyler Griffey’s layup at the buzzer will go down forever as one of the great moments in Illinois history.
“I’m sure he wishes it was a three-pointer, but he’ll take it just the way it happened,” Johnson said.
We’ll have more from Johnson in our coverage tomorrow in The News-Gazette and on IlliniHQ.com.
I also talked with Jerry Hester about Richardson, who will be the last Peoria product on the Illinois roster for a while, ending a 20-year run.
“I’m proud of him more than anything for the way he’s carried himself and how he’s handled everything,” Hester said of Richardson. He noted all the extra attention with social media and different media outlets popping up constantly.
More from Hester tomorrow, too.
The band is playing. Those horns are loud, especially in this cozy arena.
There is hardly anyone here besides the students and the band. The weather might be keeping folks at home today.
There might be a change in the Illinois starting lineup again today. I’ll look more into that.
Illinois (16-8, 3-7) at No. 18 Minnesota (17-6, 5-5) — 60 minutes before tipoff (BTN)
Both teams have made their way onto the court.
Mike LaTulip was the first Illini to take the floor.
John Groce’s older son Conner is here. He was escorted to his seat by a man wearing Illinois gear who bears a striking resemblance to Conner’s dad.
I hope you all saw the photo circulating on the Internet of John Groce and Conner Groce celebrating after the game. They’ll cherish that one for a long time.
Conner is wearing a shirt today.
Make sure you stay tuned to the Big Ten Network tonight after the game is over. “The Journey” follows the contest and features a segment about Illinois’ D.J. Richardson. It focuses on D.J. being the last Peoria player on the Illinois roster for the immediate future. For the last 20 years, starting with Jerry Hester, there has been at least one Peoria product on the Illinois roster.
I talked to Bill Friedman, the show’s producer about D.J. Like everyone else, the first thing he said about D.J. was “He’s a great kid.”
The news about Illinois knocking off Indiana was one of the top national stories entering the weekend and it made news across the pond, too.
Former Illini Tal Brody, whose jersey will be raised to the rafters Wednesday night during the Purdue game, said he got calls, email from back home in Israel about the game.
“Everybody knows I’m an Illinois guy and it was all over my Facebook,” said Brody, Israel’s ambassador of goodwill. “Tyler Griffey’s last shot was shown.”
Brody said he posted a video on his Facebook page last week of Andy Kaufmann’s last-second shot to beat Iowa from 1993.
“All of a sudden, it’s another last-second shot,” Brody said. “They’re writing back to me, asking ‘Tal, did you have any influence on that? Did you know what was going to happen when you put that Andy Kaufmann post up?’ ”
This is my first time at Williams Arena and I’m told the scoreboard hanging above center court and the ribbon boards going around the arena are brand new this year. They’re nice.
By the way, Brandon Paul is 10 points shy of moving into 10th place on the Illinois career scoring list. He’d pass Efrem Winters by reaching double figures today.
Illinois (16-8, 3-7) at No. 18 Minnesota (17-6, 5-5) — 90 minutes before tipoff (BTN)
Good afternoon from snowy Minneapolis. There was snow on the ground when I got here and then it started snowing this morning and hasn’t stopped since.
They’re calling it “Winter Storm Orko”. They’re expecting about 5 inches of snow, maybe more. I told the pizza delivery guy to be careful. He laughed. They’re used to this stuff here.
That might affect the Illini tonight in terms of travel. Not sure if plane will be able to leave in the blizzard-like conditions.
The locals, however, are raving about the “warm temperatures” (it’s in the 20s). There’s a guy in the media room going on and in about how much he despises the weather here, yet, he chose to live in Minnesota for the last 50 years.
But, inside Williams Arena, it’s a comfortable 72 degrees with no precipitation in the forecast.
The Gophers are trying to sweep the season series from the Illini for the first time since 1995-96, a season Minnesota vacated. The last time they did it legally was in ’77-78.
Oddsmakes have pegged the Gophers as 9.5-point favorites.
“That’s way too many points for us, the way we’ve been playing lately,” one of the Williams Arena ushers just said to another usher.
Looking forward to seeing how the Illini respond after the huge win Thursday of top-ranked Indiana.
I spent most of Friday in my car driving from Champaign to Chicago and around the city and the game was the talk of the town. The national radio networks replayed Brian Barnhart and Jerry Hester’s call of Tyler Griffey’s game-winning shot over and over.
John Groce was on SiriusXM College Basketball Live with Jeff Goodman and Bruce Pearl. I’m sure that makes most of you all warm and fuzzy.
Groce and Pearl sound like they get along with one another quite well.
Groce was also on “Chicago Tribune Live” among other shows.
Brandon Paul appeared on Dan Dakich’s show in Indianapolis.
It was a big deal and something they should enjoy. It’s back to work today, however.
If the Illini can get this one, they’ll be in good shape going forward for a tournament berth. They’ve still got games at Michigan and Ohio State, but if they win here, they should feel good about knocking off Purdue, Northwestern, Nebraska and Iowa.
It’s pretty quiet inside the Barn so far. There is a group of about eight guys on the floor shooting. They average in height about 5-feet, 9-inches, so I’m assuming they won’t be competing tonight for the Gophers.
On the other end of the floor, two older gentlemen, I’m guessing they’re in their 70s, are shooting.
Loren Tate would call them “young men”.
I’m hopping on the radio for the pregame show with Steve Kelly and Loren Tate. They’re back in snowless Champaign. Ed Bond and I are holding it down here. Ed is eating the largets bowl of ice cream I've ever seen a man take on.
I’ll be back with an update soon.