Illinois had a week off to try and get everyone healthy. While Malcom Hill no longer has a limp, and Rayvonte Rice and Aaron Cosby are almost back to full health, Illinois is now facing a new kind of player absence. Rice and Cosby are now suspended indefinitely for not following team rules. This would have been a perfect game to try to bring them back into the mix. Especially considering that there was zero offensive flow for Illinois during large portions of the game. Julian Moore tied the game at 18 at the 9:08 mark in the first half. The game remained tied for almost three minutes, which also happened again when Illini had the lead 56-55 late in the second half. Both of these stretches could have been broken up by a signature Rice drive to the basket or a Cosby three from the corner. Instead the could only sit helpless as Illini tried to squick out a win.
Really the story of this game was Malcom Hill vs DJ Newbill. Hill scored 27 of the Illini's 60 points for the game while Newbill scored 20 of Penn State's 58 points. For most of the game everything good that happened to Penn St. on offense, occurred because Newbill hit a shot or caused the defense to sag into a double team which allowed one of his teammates an easy put back. For Illinois the same was true of Hill, he always seemed to have an answer for Newbill. At one point Newbill hit back to back three pointers which gave Penn State a 2 point lead, Hill came right back with a three of his own. In the end a gutty drive from HIll through a double team led so a game winning layup.
Post Game Notes
Rice and Cosby are currently suspended and sat out Saturdays game against Penn state. Right now no one but the coaching staff and the players have any clue how long the suspension will last. Groce is not a push over and if these players broke a rule I am sure that he will be more than willing to sacrifice losing a game to teach a lesson. I doubt either will get to play against Rutgers on Tuesday, but hopefully they will be back in time to play on the road against Michigan St. on Feb 7th. The problem now will be does integrating two players back in the rotation end up hurting them in a pivotal game. It would have been great to have had these players available for the two games against Penn State and Rutgers. While there are never any "can't miss" games in the Big Ten, Rutgers and Penn State would have been a lot easier than Michigan State and Michigan. Now Illinois will have to pull them back into the mix without missing a beat.
Malcom HIll had a monster game. Like I said above, he accounted for almost half of Illinois total points, but more importanlty than that, he stopped every attempt from Penn State to steal the momentum. Even better than one game, is that Malcom Hill is now having a monster Big Ten season. He is currentlly scoring 18 points game during Big Ten play, which is almost 4 points better then his season average. Every year you look for players to make the sophmore leap. HIll has made that and more. He is cool under pressure and never panics when he sees a double team, which he will be seeing a lot if he continues playing like this. Overall, I think it is safe to say the Illinois has found another star player that they can rally behind in Rice's absense.
Tournament Hopes are still alive and well with Illinois after bringing there confence record one game closer to being back at .500. Illinois needs to continue to beat teams at home, especially those teams that fall below them in the standings. For Illinois to get their names announced on selection Sunday, they will have to find a way to get at least another 5 wins. I think 9-9 could get them in thanks to high RPI wins and a lack of low RPI losses, but this would put them securely on the bubble. Ten wins and I think they would be safelty amongs the field of 68.