PORTLAND — Ore. — Coming off the most productive offensive game of his career, it appeared as though Illinois freshman Malcolm Hill was primed become a go-to guy on the offensive end of the floor off the bench.
But following Tuesday’s 10-point effort in a home win against Dartmouth, the 6-foot-6 freshman played just four minutes in Saturday’s 71-64 loss to No. 15 Oregon at Moda Center, all in the first half.
“He wasn’t ready to go tonight. Put him in the game, he wasn’t as locked in as we needed him to be,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “I probably should have given him a second run to give (Jon) Ekey a little bit of a blow there in the second half, we asked an awful lot of Jon in the second half.”
Hill went 0 for 1 from the floor, committed a turnover and hauled in a steal during his four minutes against the Ducks. By no means is Groce giving up on the promising freshman who left Belleville East as the program’s all-time scoring leader. But he’s got to be better going forward than he was Saturday.
“He’s got to grow up and learn on a couple of those execution things out of timeouts and he’s got to be ready to go. He knows that and I think he will,” Groce said. “Hopefully tonight will be a learning experience for him. I didn’t feel like he was ready to go. We’ve got to help him grow. We’re going to need him.”
* * * *
One freshman who was called on to play extended minutes and thrived in doing so was Kendrick Nunn.
The 6-foot-3 guard from Chicago played 17 minutes off the bench, scoring two points on three shots to go along with two steals.
Nunn was pressed into extended duty with Illinois battling some foul trouble.
“He’s playing well. I thought tonight he was really good defensively,” Groce said. “He just continues to keep getting better and better defensively. I thought that was really, really good.”
With big men Nnanna Egwu, Jon Ekey and Maverick Morgan all in foul trouble in the first half, Groce played a four-guard lineup, which included Nunn.
“I thought our small-ball package late in the first half was really good, we’ll take a look at it and say ‘Man, maybe we could have gone back to the four-guard lineup,’ ” Groce said. “We were doing it out of emergency late in the first half because of foul trouble. We’ll take a look at it and find ways to get better.”
* * * *
Though he was battling foul trouble, Egwu played 25 minutes Saturday and attempted three field goals. One was a made three-pointer late in the game that gave the Illini a brief one-point lead.
There haven’t been many opportunities of late for Egwu to score the ball. Some of that comes from the perimeter players not looking more for him. But Groce said Egwu still isn’t 100 percent after dealing with an illness the last couple of weeks.
“Nnanna’s not been his normal self. Nnanna’s been a real trouper, that kid’s unbelievable. He’s feeling a lot better now, certainly was in preparation for this game. He had about a week to 10 days there where he lost some weight, was fighting some sickness and illness and he wouldn’t say a word to you. I thought that really affected the pep in his step the last week to two,” Groce said of Egwu, who scored five points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked two shots Saturday. “We’ll continue to take a look at it. I do think we need to throw it in there, obviously more. He’s about gained most of his weight back, which is good. He got a little bit less winded tonight that he did in that stretch when he was under the weather. I think a couple of those things are maybe being the reason why not as much. We’ve got to continue to get it down there more to have more of a blend.”
* * * *
Saturday’s game was a homecoming for Oregon’s Mike Moser. The fifth-year senior transfer from UNLV grew up in Portland and he was excited about returning to his home town to play in front of some familiar faces.
“It was really amazing playing at the Moda Center,” Moser said. “The fans were really excited today, they really brought the noise. It’s definitely a great way to top off my senior year.”
The return to the Pacific Northwest has been a positive one for the 6-foot-8 forward. Moser is averaging 15 points and 7.4 rebounds for the Ducks while shooting 51 percent from the floor.
“Being a Duck is amazing. The city of Eugene really loves its athletics,” he said. “The way our crowd just comes out and supports us wherever we go, whether we’re in Eugene at the Matt Knight Arena or on the road, they really do a great job.”