Men's basketball: Illinois takes down Gophers
MINNEAPOLIS — Tyler Griffey capped a terrific week for Illinois with 16 points, and the Fighting Illini went 11 for 23 from 3-point range in a 57-53 win over No. 18 Minnesota on Sunday night.
Three days after Griffey’s buzzer-beating layup gave Illinois (17-8, 4-7) a 74-72 victory over No. 1 Indiana, Tracy Abrams swished a step-back 3-pointer with 18 seconds left to stretch the lead over Minnesota to four. Abrams came off the bench for the first time this season after failing to score against the Hoosiers.
D.J. Richardson had 13 points and Brandon Paul added 10 points for the Illini, who ended a 10-game losing streak on the road against ranked Big Ten teams. Their last such win was three years ago at Wisconsin.
Austin Hollins had 16 points and four steals for the Golden Gophers (17-7, 5-6), who lost for the sixth time in eight games and could find themselves out of the Top 25.
Trevor Mbakwe had 13 points and 10 rebounds but four turnovers, none more costly than with 50 seconds left and Illinois leading by a point.
Double-teamed down low, the sixth-year senior pivoted and threw a two-handed pass across the court that sailed out of bounds. Abrams scored on the next possession, and Hollins air-balled a 3-pointer after that.
The Gophers played without senior forward Rodney Williams, whose shoulder injury kept him out of a game for the first time in nearly three years. That forced coach Tubby Smith into some awkward lineup combinations, and the reserves again struggled to establish a rhythm or avoid stagnant, sloppy possessions.
Elliott Eliason, who filled many of Williams’ minutes, had 10 rebounds, three assists and two blocks and swished a mid-range jumper with 2:22 left to pull the Gophers within one point. But the Gophers didn’t get enough help.
Andre Hollins and Joe Coleman combined to shoot 3 for 18 from the floor.
The Gophers, who won at Assembly Hall 84-67 last month while holding the Illini to 3-for-24 shooting from 3-point range, were trying to beat Illinois twice in the regular season for the first time since 1996. They led by as much as 13-2 and 26-14 in the first half.
But they found themselves trailing 31-30 at the break after a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Richardson, his third in the final four minutes of the half. That fueled a 20-4 run by the Illini that didn’t end until a dunk by Mbakwe well into the second stanza, ending a skid of more than 7½ minutes by the Gophers without a basket.
As the only team in the nation with three wins over opponents ranked in the top 10 of the most recent Associated Press poll, the Illini have showed off their shooting-driven skills several times this season, with those wins over Butler, at Gonzaga and against Ohio State even before the takedown of Indiana.
What they hadn’t done yet is proven they can play consistent enough defense to pull out gritty victories when the performance isn’t so pretty. Those losses at Purdue and at home against Northwestern could haunt them come NCAA tournament selection time.
The Illini didn’t make a shot from the field until 9½ minutes were gone in the game, when Nnanna Egwu’s baseline jumper bounced off the rim and dropped in.
The Gophers didn’t run very many crisp half-court sets, particularly when all or most of the five guys on the floor were from the second group. Most of their scoring came either in transition after a miss or a turnover or when the Illini defense lost track of someone on a back-door cut.
Richardson made consecutive 3-pointers from the same place on the left wing on fast breaks that developed from rebounds of tough shots by the Gophers at the end of disheveled possessions, and then Sam McLaurin held his spot in the lane as 6-foot-10, 290-pound Maurice Walker powered past him for a basket. The charge was called, and Illini coach John Groce was so happy he gave McLaurin a bear hug at the timeout. Paul found space in the lane for a layup right after that, and suddenly the Illini were within 26-24.