UI 62, Minnesota 49: 'He has amnesia'

UI 62, Minnesota 49: 'He has amnesia'

MINNEAPOLIS — Maybe it’s the students dressed as pigs, cows, horses and chickens. Or it could be the old-school acoustics that accentuate sound off the old tin roof.

Whatever it is, Illinois basketball teams like playing in The Barn.

And after Wednesday’s 62-49 win against the Gophers, the Illini have left Williams Arena with a victory in 11 of their last 13 visits to Minnesota’s 86-year-old venue.

Illinois won for just the second time in its last 12 games thanks to a remarkable effort by Kendrick Nunn. The freshman guard, who entered the starting lineup four games ago, tied a career high with 19 points, drilling five three-pointers for Illinois (15-12, 4-10 Big Ten).

“He’s a tough dude. He’s something else,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “He makes a mistake, he has amnesia. You can say it any which way you want to him, and he’s going to make the next play.”

Big man Nnanna Egwu gave the two dozen or so Illinois fans waving a Block-I flag in the upper deck plenty to cheer about with a 14-point, 11-rebound effort, his second double-double of the season.

“There is not a better kid. I’ve coached some great kids, but there’s none better than him,” Groce said of Egwu, who added four blocked shots.

Recently, Egwu went to his coach and expressed disappointment in his individual play. It’s picked up the last three games as the 6-foot-11 center is averaging 12.3 rebounds and 8.0 points since.

“I was playing hard, but I wasn’t producing enough to help us win,” Egwu said. “I just wanted to keep working hard and be more aggressive in order to do certain things to help our team get better.”

Wednesday’s victory had a vibe similar to the 2012-13 season that ended in the NCAA tournament for the Illini, who drilled 8 of 13 three-pointers against Minnesota (17-10, 6-8), the most treys made in a Big Ten game this season, and because team huddles started and began with energetic fist pumps and high-fives led by Groce.

Like last year, when Illinois fell behind 17-5 on the road against the Gophers, it fell behind 14-3 Wednesday only to storm back, and the Illini were able to close thanks to Tracy Abrams (13 points) going 8 of 8 from the free throw line in the closing minutes.

“A lot of it goes to the toughness of the players and their disposition, and they stay poised, and we don’t panic,” Groce said. “Their poise was right on the mark (Wednesday).”

Wednesday’s win did a lot for the psyche of this Illinois team that has had a rough go of it the last six weeks. More important, it keeps them in position to receive an invitation to the NIT, which requires a .500 record or better. The Illini have four games remaining in the regular season to tack on a few more victories.

“For them to get rewarded and continue to fight and handle adversity the way we have makes me feel good for the guys we have,” Groce said.

GAME 27 BOX SCORE
ILLINOIS (15-12, 4-10 Big Ten)
    min    fg-fga    3p-3pa    ft-fta    pf    rb    a    tp
Egwu        5-8    0-0    4-4    3    11    1    14
Abrams        2-5    1-1    8-8    3    1    6    13
Rice        1-7    1-2    3-4    2    6    1    6
Hill        2-5    0-0    1-2    1    2    0    5
Nunn        7-13    5-7    0-0    3    0    1    19
Morgan        0-0    0-0    0-0    3    1    0    0
Colbert        0-0    0-0    0-0    1    0    0    0
Ekey        2-5    1-3    0-0    0    3    0    5
Bertrand        0-1    0-0    0-2    0    2    1    0
Tate        0-1    0-0    0-0    0    1    3    0
Team                        2        
Totals    200    19-45    8-13    16-20    16    29    13    62
Field goal pct.: 42.2; three-point pct.: 61.5; free throw pct.: 80.0

MINNESOTA (17-10, 6-8 Big Ten)
    min    fg-fga    3p-3pa    ft-fta    pf    rb    a    tp
Eliason        2-2    0-0    0-3    2    6    0    4
King        1-4    1-2    2-2    2    1    4    5
Au. Hollins        5-10    0-4    0-0    1    7    2    10
An. Hollins        4-13    3-11    4-4    0    4    2    15
Mathieu        1-5    0-1    1-3    5    1    3    3
Walker        5-7    0-0    0-0    4    3    1    10
Osenieks        1-1    0-0    0-0    0    3    0    2
Smith        0-7    0-6    0-0    1    1    1    0
McNeil        0-1    0-0    0-0    1    1    3    0
Ahanmisi        0-1    0-1    0-0    0    1    0    0
Team                        7        
Totals    200    19-51    4-25    7-12    16    35    16    49
Field goal pct.: 37.3; three-point pct.: 16.0; free throw pct.: 58.3

Halftime score: Gophers 27, Illini 24
Turnovers: Illini 11 (Nunn 4, Abrams 3, Egwu, Hill, Morgan, Tate); Gophers 15 (An. Hollins 3, Mathieu 3, Walker 3, Au. Hollins 2, Osenieks 2, King)
Blocked shots: Illini 4 (Egwu 4); Gophers 4 (Walker 2, King, Osenieks)
Steals: Illini 9 (Ekey 3, Rice 2, Tate 2, Bertrand, Nunn); Gophers 6 (Mathieu 2, Walker 2, Au. Hollins, McNell)
Attendance: 12,221
Officials: Lamont Simpson, Tim Clougherty, Jim Schipper

Comments

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ERE wrote on February 20, 2014 at 8:02 am
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A terrific terrific game for the Illini! Watched it in The Barn, awesome to have a small but very vocal Illini gang there. 

They played it very poised, relentless, and high motor throughout. 

What a awesome dunk-Nunn better! 

JimOATSfan wrote on February 20, 2014 at 6:02 pm

Do it again please!