Illinois Knocks Off Minnesota 71-62

Entering tonight, both the Illini and the Gophers were looking to snap losing streaks. The Fighting Illini had dropped their past 4 road games, and the Gophers their last 3 games overall (taking losses to Purdue, Indiana, and Ohio State).

At the end of the night, the Illini were able to pull out a huge win to not only boost their tournament resume, but also pull above .500 in Big Ten play, improving to 6-5. Minnesota falls to 5-7 in the Big Ten with the loss.

Minnesota absolutely had to have this game. A win would keep them afloat in the conference. But now, losers of their last 4 games, including blowouts at the hands of Ohio State and Purdue? No such luck. The Gophers will likely be unranked the rest of the year, and likely will have to win all the rest of their conference games if they don't want to be entirely dependent on a run in the conference tournament getting them into the NCAAs.

The Gophers were able to keep even with Bruce Weber's team in the first half. There was a basket interference incident in which Mike Tisdale grabbed the net to bunch it up, preventing a Minnesota shot from going in, but the officials simply never saw Tisdale's hand in the basket. Minnesota essentially lost a possession when they didn't need to. The Gophers found themselves trailing close to the end of the half, but they were able to take advantage of Illini miscues in the final minutes of the 1st to close the gap to 30-29.

The Illini, faced with a tough road environment and a tough Minnesota team that tried everything to get that crowd into the game in the 2nd half, simply kept their offense running. When the Gophers put the Illini on the free throw line, they responded by making 23 of their 27 attempts from the line. Minnesota, however, missed 7 of their 17 attempts. And while Minnesota outrebounded Illinois 44-38, they took ten more shot attempts and made only two more shots (Illinois players were 22 of 56 from the floor; Minnesota 24 of 66).

The Illini had two players tie for the team lead in points; Demetri McCamey and Mike Davis with 17 apiece. G Brandon Paul chipped in 12 points, and B.J. Richardson scored 11. Mike Tisdale, however, was held to 4 points on 2 of 6 shooting. Mike Davis led Illinois with 9 rebounds. The Illini had 14 assists to 12 turnovers, with Jereme Richmond and McCamey recording 4 assists each to lead the team. Illinois's bench players outscored Minnesota's 23-2.

The Gophers had a pair of players with double doubles (Trevor Mbakwe with 17 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, Ralph Sampson III with 16 points and 11 rebounds), and both players chipped in plenty of blocks (Mbakwe had 4 blocks, Sampson 2), but it simply was not enough. Blake Hoffarber tossed up 10 threes and was successful only three times; he finished with 15 points. Rodney Williams and Austin Hollins combined for 12 points (scoring 6 each) and just 3 rebounds (all by Williams). Minnesota matched Illinois in assists, but had 16 turnovers.

This was the last thing Minnesota wanted or needed, but I seriously doubt the Illini care. They came out and took care of business in a tough arena, and they look poised to be the 4th place team in the Big Ten and the 4th seed in the conference tournament. Minnesota, on the other hand? They're in trouble. The Gophers, before tonight, had not lost 4 in a row since Tubby Smith came to Minneapolis. Now, riding a 4 game losing streak, the Gophers must play Iowa in Iowa City, and Penn State in State College. While both Iowa and Penn State that have been anything but consistent this year, both are still capable of pulling upsets at home.

NEXT 3 GAMES:

Illinois:

vs. #14 Purdue (2/13/11), vs. Michigan (2/16/11), @ Michigan State (2/19/11)

Minnesota:

@ Iowa (2/13/11), @ Penn State (2/17/11), vs. Michigan State (2/22/11)

NOTES: Minnesota had 7 blocks, 6 more rebounds, and came out a loser at home. Yuck.

From The Daily Gopher's recap:

The Gophers left Williams Arena Thursday night having lost its fourth straight, second straight at home, and fell to 5-7 in conference play. At this point, there should be no talk of the bubble or NCAA berths. This is an NIT team right now. Nothing more. 

...

Point is, the talent that's on the floor for Minnesota isn't Top 25 talent. It's not NCAA Tournament talent. And that's why they've lost four straight. Blame injuries. Blame recruiting. It doesn't change the fact that this Gophers team, sans any legitimate guard play other than Hoffarber, is closer to the NIT than the NCAA.

From Hail To The Orange's recap:

The Illini won only their second Big Ten road game of the season, and against a team that was equally desperate for a victory. But what is perhaps even more impressive is the manner that the Illini won this game, overcoming an absolutely awful shooting night. The Illini would end up with a respectable 39% from the field, but for long stretches were shooting sub 33%, and even finished the game with just 25% from beyond the three point line.

Winning without the three pointer is as rare as a dodo for this team, but made up for it by playing with an intensity not seen in many of their other road losses. Getting eleven steals and four blocks, and driving into the teeth of a very strong Minnesota front line, drawing fouls and getting to the line.The Illini were way over their season average from the foul line, hitting 23 of 27 free throw attempts, making their last 11 straight, which would seal the game.

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