Illini Men Run Past Crusaders 82-57

Leron Black and Malcolm Hill

Leron Black (left) and Malcolm Hill conclude their pregame handshake ritual before Tuesday's NIT game against Valparaiso

Brian Moline/Illinois Public Media

Interim Head Coach Jamall Walker picked up a victory in the Illini's NIT opener, 82-57 over Valparaiso at State Farm Center Tuesday night.  Malcolm Hill led the Illini with 25 points, and Leron Black added a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds.

Walker took over as interim head coach after John Groce was fired on Saturday. Walker was on Groce's staff as an assistant coach all five seasons of his tenure.

He credited his former boss with instilling toughness in his team that showed tonight against Valparaiso.

"That's one of the things that rubbed off on our guys," Walker said. "They know how to fight. That's because of John."

The Illini led through most of the game, grabbing a 41-24 halftime lead. The Crusaders never threatened in the second half, as Illinois led by double digits throughout.

Hill's 25 points bring him within eight points of Dee Brown for third on the Illini's all-time scoring list.

He said after the game that Walker's message to the team was a simple one.

"He said it's okay to make mistakes as long as we're giving our all," Hill said. "Great effort, that's all he cares about right now."

Sophomore forward Michael Finke did not play in Tuesday's game, sitting out with a left foot injury. An athletic department spokesman said Finke would go through tests today and his status for the rest of the NIT was yet to be determined.

Illinois advances to the second round to face Boise State, who defeated Utah 73-68 Tuesday night. The date and time of the second round game are yet to be determined.

Illinois' Maverick Morgan (22) and Valparaiso's Jaume Sorolla battle for the opening tip of Tuesday's NIT first round game in Champaign.

Photo Credit: Brian Moline/Illinois Public Media

Story source: WILL