On Thursday night, Illinois scored a huge home win against Michigan after going on a 21-2 run at the end of the game to score the overtime victory. Let's take a look at how Illinois performed in the matchup.
Sometimes it just seems like it isn't going to be your night. When Spike Albrect lost grip on the ball, but then proceeded to jump into the air and sink a horse shot from an insane angle, I believe most Illinois fans feared that it would be one of those nights. Illinois was shooting terrible, they had trouble getting to the line and couldn't seem to figure out how to attach Michigan's zone. Late in the second half when they finally started hitting baskets, Michigan was right there with answer after answer. Back to back threes from Kendrick Nunn, Michigan answers with back to back threes of their own. Malcolm Hill cuts it back to four, and Spike Albrect barriers a 30 footer to put it back to seven.
But with 3 minutes left two things happened the shifted the momentum for good. Egwu stopped switching on Defense, which effectively killed Michigan's inside game, and Rayvonte Rice manned up and proved he will always be Illinois' most important player, even when he isn't their top scorer. Rice supplied rebound after rebound and got steals at the most important moments. Illinois needs a stop with 6.5 seconds left to force overtime, Rice pulls the ball out of the sky to give Illinois a chance to make a shot to win it in regulation. Rice did every gritty thing that you want from a senior trying to scratch and claw his way into the tournament. He is far too good of a player, never to get a chance to play in the big dance, and from how he played last night, I think you will have to kill him before he will let Illinois fall short of that goal.
Illinois finished on a 21-2 run from the 3:13 mark in the second half through the overtime period. Michigan's only points during that period occurred because Malcom Hill fouled with 15 seconds left to allow Coach Groce to sub in the rest of the bench. It was the most dominate runs I have seen from this team all year. After losing multiple games, by floundering down the stretch, it seems like this team has finally figured out what it takes to secure a win in the Big Ten.
Post Game Notes:
Kendrick Nunn is the star this team needs now and going forward. He if flashy and isn't afraid to take big risks. His missed a dunk early in the first half which is they type of play that pumps up the crowd and increases a team's momentum. While he missed the dunk, I love that he wasn't afraid to try. Nunn plays with a style that people love to watch, and helps Illinois play faster and with more aggression. He hurt his knee last summer and had off season surgery. But if last night and Big Ten season to this point is any indication, he back to more than full health.
Malcolm Hill looked terrible early. His shot wasn't falling and during many offensive possessions he just stood around. It took until 10 minutes left in the second half for him to break out of the funk. He ended up finishing with 11 points and 6 rebounds. He had a couple key baskets during the early part of Illinois' run that helped secure a win.
Rayvonte Rice was back after a 40 day absence because of injury and then suspension. It was apparent early that he will have to shack off a lot of rust. He picked up four fouls on play where he just dove with too much force towards Michigan players. By the end of the game though he was able to play significant minutes without picking up his fourth foul, while securing very important rebounds and steals. The hug that he received from Coach Groce when he was subbed out late in overtime, shows that Rice responded well to the recent suspension and seems to be back in Groce's good favor.
Aaron Cosby is not only still suspended, but is now on a time out from team activities. While Rice did what he had to do to prove to the coaching staff he was ready to be back with the team. It seems like Cosby has moved in the opposite direction and has now been told to take a break from basketball related activites. His absence from the bench will be something to keep an eye on going forward.