Hill Leads Illini Past Rutgers, 82-66

 
Illini freshman guard Aaron Jordan passes to Malcolm Hill Tuesday night against Rutgers.

Illinois freshman guard Aaron Jordan (21) passes to Malcolm Hill (23) Tuesday night against Rutgers at the University of Illinois State Farm Center.

Rob McColley/Illinois Public Media

Malcolm Hill recorded his sixth double-double of the season to lead the Illini men past Rutgers 82-66 last night at the State Farm Center.

Hill scored 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds despite playing on a pulled hamstring.

“Yeah, I was more happy about the rebounds than the points,” said Hill. “I wasn’t really getting a lot a rebounds, that wasn’t really what I was known for. And my best friend, my high school teammate, he claimed all I did was score the ball and never rebound. So I take pride in my rebounds. I wish I had a little more assists. Kind of sloppy with the ball. I had one turnover. There was a couple of times there were dead balls, but it would have been a turnover if there wasn’t a whistle. So I’m trying to focus on my rebounds and assists.”

Head coach John Groce was unsure whether Hill would play until about an hour before tip off. But he disagreed with the idea that Hill played fewer minutes at point guard because of the injury. Hill got the plurality of minutes at that position against Northwestern on Saturday, but played only 7 minutes at point last night, while Khalid Lewis played 30.

"Khalid played really well,” said Groce. “I just liked the look in his eye, thought he earned the minutes that he played. When he’s out there, obviously, he’s playing point. And then you can play Malcolm at two, three, four, five or six, wherever you need to put him. And he just plays. So, Khalid did a great job. I thought he did a great job at the 30 minutes that he played at both ends. We hope he continues to play that way.”

Hill said playing hurt is more a mental issue than physical.

“It’s just really tight and sore,” said Hill. “It was hurting me a lot. Of course, I wasn’t 100 percent going into the game. But the key with that is just, whenever the ball tips, I just tell myself I’m 100 percent, because that just makes me not think about it. My teammates said I was faking the whole day. But no, it’s just the mindset there.”

Maverick Morgan scored 17 for Illinois on 7-of-11 shooting to go with 5 rebounds, 4 blocked shots and 2 assists. And while all of his personal offensive production resulted from half-court sets, Morgan said Illinois' transition game was the decisive factor in the win.

“A lot of it was ball movement,” said Morgan. “In the first half we were running after stops a lot. And we were striking quick in transition. That’s what everyone would preferably do, rather than play against a half-court defense. Obviously a lot easier to score in transition. That’s where a lot of that came from, just moving the ball.”

Illinois' third double-figure scorer was Kendrick Nunn, who hit 4-of-8 three-pointers and scored 16 points along with three steals.

Jonathan Laurent tallied a double-double for Rutgers, leading the Scarlet Knights in both points and rebounding with 18 and 11 respectively.

Rutgers, winless in the Big Ten and 6-and-20 on the year, was without its best player. Corey Sanders did not travel with the team. He's serving a four game suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

Groce fielded a question about rumored incoming athletic director Josh Whitman. He expressed relief that the job would be filled, without acknowledging the as-of-Tuesday-night unannounced name of the man who will fill it.

“I’m excited to meet whoever the committee, chancellor and president choose,” said Groce. “I think it’ll be great for the Athletic Department to have a rudder on the ship. It should be good. I’m excited to move forward. So that sounds like it’s coming down the pike, and we’ll look forward to that.”

The Illini men return to action Sunday evening at Wisconsin.

Story source: WILL