Illinois 62, Minnesota 49 — FINAL
MINNEAPOLIS — Kendrick Nunn tied a career-high scoring 19 points, including five three-pointers in leading the Illini to their 11th win in the last 13 visits to Williams Arena.
Nnanna Egwu (14 points, 11 rebounds) produced his second double-double of the season and Tracy Abrams made clutch free throws down the stretch to reach double figures with 13 points.
Minnesota got 15 points from Andre Hollins and 10 apiece from Maurice Walker and Austin Hollins.
More later on HQ.
Illinois 40, Minnesota 35 — 11:19 second half
John Groce was fist bumping everyone wearing a blue uniform entering the last timeout. Kendrick Nunn has been a man tonight. The freshman has five threes and he leads all scorers with 17 points.
Don't look now, but Illinois has 40 points!
Nnanna Egwu's solid play tonight continues. The young guards Jaylon Tate and Kendrick Nunn do a real nice job of finding the Illinois big man.
The Illini went on an 8-0 run to start the half.
What a sloppy start to the half for both teams. In the first two and a half minutes, Illinois turned it over three times and Minnesota gave it away twice. That doesn't include bad shots.
Minnesota fans are starting to turn on their players: "Austin, be a leader!" one yelled at Austin Hollins.
MInnesota is starting to turn up the full-court pressure to thwart the Illinois momentum. It's worked so far.
Joseph Bertrand appears to have lost a great deal of confidence in recent weeks. He missed a pair of free throws early in the half.
It got so loaned in here for a second that John Groce was trying to call a timeout for about six seconds and none of the officials heard him.
I've got to get something ready for the paper tomorrow with the tight deadline.
Minnesota 27, Illinois 24 — Halftime
What is this, 2012-13? The three-point shot has kept the Illini in the game. Six of their eight made field goals are three-pointers. Kendrick Nunn has three of them.
Illinois took advantage of DeAndre Mathieu sitting the last 11 minutes or so with two fouls. It was 14-3 when he went out and Illinois outscored Minnesota 21-13 with the Gophers point guard on the bench.
For the most part, Minnesota is coming away with more of the 50/50 balls than the Illini. Some tough bounces, but some were gettable for Illinois.
Nnanna Egwu is playing his behind off at both ends of the floor.
Official Lamont Simpson and Minnesota's Joey King had a long conversation coming out of one of the timeouts.
Paris Parham had the scout tonight. He's been up and active.
Midway through the half, all of the Illinois coaches were up leaning on the floor calling out the players what play Minnesota was running. The Gophers missed the shot.
Illinois didn't like the foul Nnanna Egwu got hedging on Andre Hollins. Hollins sold it real nice with the head nod. The officials made up for it with a moving screen a few seconds later.
The always-popular Kiss Cam was a hit here. The folks featured were eager to smooch their loved ones.
Illinois shot 8 for 25 (32 percent) from the floor and 6 for 9 (66.7 percent) from long range. The did not get to the free throw line.
Kendrick Nunn leads in scoring with his nine points. Nnanna Egwu leads all around with six points and six boards.
Minnesota shot 11 for 30 (36.7 percent) from the floor and 3 for 15 (20 percent) from deep. The Gophers went 2 for 3 from the full line.
Andre Hollins leads with eight points. Austin Hollins has six points to go along with a new poster.
Minnesota won the rebounding battle 21-16.
Minnesota 14, Illinois 3 — 11:45 first half
The offensive woes continue for the Illini. They've got one field goal in the first eight minutes and are 1 for 10 from the floor.
Less than two minutes into the game, John Groce saw something he didn't like from Kendrick Nunn, calling Joseph Bertrand to sub in for the freshman. The Gophers jumped out to a 7-0 lead and Groce called a timeout with 17:06 left to get Bertrand on the floor.
I was told by someone in the know that Nunn would have a good game tonight. It's not off to a great start for him. Plenty of time, though.
The are plenty of farm animals down in the Barnyard student section. I see a few cows, a pig, some sheep, a chicken and maybe a horse.
That doesn't include Goldy the Gopher.
The public address announcer was practicing Nnanna Egwu's name in the media room before the game. I don't think he got it right during the introductions.
I was also told before the game a key tonight would be to control DeAndre Mathieu and keep him out of the paint. Easier said than done. He's slippery and can spilt the double teams with ease. Mathieu does have two fouls here early, though.
Illinois (14-12, 3-10) at Minnesota (17-9, 6-7) Tipoff (BTN)
For the fourth straight game, Illinois will start Tracy Abrams, Kendrick Nunn, Rayvonte Rice, Malcolm Hill and Nnanna Egwu.
Nunn is averaging 11 points per game during the stretch. He hadn't scored in double figures in a game before entering the starting lineup.
Late-arriving crowd. There are some empty seats here, but it's still pretty loaned in here, especially when the band is playing.
Minnesota will start Andre Hollins, DeAndre Mathieu, Austin Hollins, Joey King and Elliott Eliason.
King is a local product who played last season at Drake. He and Rice did not play together there.
A group of kids wearing black pants, white shirts, black bow ties and red sports coats sang the National Anthem. It was cute.
The fans at Williams Arena helped them along. The Illinois coaching staff stood and applauded the kids as they walked off the court.
The guy in the student section draped in the American flag wasn't especially respectful during the whole deal. He's also wearing a Dream Team jersey. It's nice.
Illinois (14-12, 3-10) at Minnesota (17-9, 6-7) 8 p.m. (BTN)
I think it's time to turn in my athlete card. I've tripped going up the steps here at Williams Arena twice already tonight and the second time someone actually saw me. It was mildly embarrassing, but not as bad as if I hadn't caught myself and fallen on my face.
Former Illinois football player Frank Lenti is here filming some stuff for the "TNT" series that the Illinois athletic department produces. Minnesota now has their own series called "Raising the Barn" very similar to what Illinois has. Penn State's got one, too.
It all started with "The Journey" and now individual schools are doing their own. Illinois, Lenti tells me, was the first.
John Groce's family made the trip North with team. I remember the Groce's older son Conner made the trip last year and he didn't stop jumping around behind the bench. He had a blast. And the Illini won, so that helped.
DId any of you watch the U.S. hockey game earlier today? I watched it at a bar in O'Hare with my new friend Carmen. I taught her a lot about hockey. She's from Texas, not much of a fan. She prefers "sports with sparkle." Sports with sparkle include figure skating, gymnastics and ice dancing. Carmen was headed to Cornell for a grad school interview. Good luck.
Speaking of hockey, it's a bigger deal up here than basketball. The folks at my hotel assumed I was headed to to a Gophers hockey game tonight.
Team USA has four players on its roster — Zach Parise, Phil Kessel, David Backes and Ryan Suter — with ties to this state.
Illinois is wearing blue tonight. The Gophers are rocking the gold. They have a DJ here performing when the band isn't playing for presume. Indiana has the best DJ. Too bad they can't play games in their arena right now.
Rayvonte Rice just threw down a windmill dunk. He hasn't been above the rim in a game for a while. Maybe we'll see something tonight.
Illinois (14-12, 3-10) at Minnesota (17-9, 6-7) 8 p.m. (BTN)
Good evening from The Barn, a place where Illinois has enjoyed some serious success the last 14 years. A win tonight at Williams Arena would be the 11th for Illinois in its last 13 games. Last year's win here was huge. It was right after the upset of No. 1 Indiana and Tracy Abrams knocked down a big three-pointer late to seal the deal against the 18th-ranked Gophers. Those two games back-to-back went a long way in getting Illinois back on track in its bid for an NCAA tournament selection.
Tonight's deal is a bit different. Unless they wins the Big Ten tournament, the Illini aren't going to be dancing this season. They need to start stealing a couple of wins here down the stretch to give themselves a chance at an NIT bid. Illinois athletic direct Mike Thomas told the Chicago Sun-Times earlier this week that Illinois would accept a bid to one of the other postseason tournaments be it the BIB or the CIT should one of them come calling.
With a team featuring so many freshmen, it's not a bad idea. The more experience and practice time those guys gets, the better.
Minnesota is on the NCAA tournament bubble and a win here tonight would do wonders for their chances. Not that beating Illinois would serve as a quality win, but avoiding a bad loss is key, especially with a road game at Ohio State followed by a home date with rival Iowa and a road test at Michigan coming up in the three games following this one.
Spoke to former Gopher big man Spencer Tollackson a few minutes ago about the program up here. The folks are excited about Richard Pitino and the direction of the program. Tollackson, whose 28, can't believe Pitino is as young as he is and as good a coach at this stage in his career.
I'm going to mingle here for a bit. Be back with you soon.